Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Made it halfway through the week.

It always happens like this. I just need to remember. However much crap I have to deal with, I still make it through the day by the grace of God.

There were a couple of articles last week about child deaths, so our Department has been ramping up the PR machine and trying to make us (workers) look bad. I think that child deaths happen for different reasons, so I won't take any sides. But I will say that I think there's validity in CSW complaints that our computer technology is outdated and we don't have access to all the necessary information to properly assess the needs of kids and families. That doesn't mean it's okay for kids to die, or that the workers weren't at fault. At the same time, it doesn't surprise me a lot. There are times when I worry about that stuff too, and I just do what I can and pray a lot.

Teen mom has been tough to deal with. But her attorney told me something today that made me feel a little empathy. She asked her attorney if I could go with her to her first parenting class. It's not because I'm all supportive or anything; it's just that she's not very good at reading and doesn't know how to get there on the bus.

It's easy to forget that people act the way that works for them. I've gotten this far in life by being well-informed and polite. She's gotten this far by being confrontational and deceitful. It's the only thing she knows. And when she needs help, she doesn't know how to ask for it. I'm the same way, but I have resources to help me figure it out. She doesn't.

The Court isn't very pleased with my work right now. I spend a lot of time helping kids but I've neglected my responsibilities to Court. But I think I'll get the hang of it.

Well, another night of sleep and then another day. Not so bad.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Tough Times

I didn't think about this teen mom all day on Wednesday and Friday. It was nice. But tomorrow it's back to the whole thing.

It's just eight hours of each day, and every time I've dreaded it, I've managed to make it through. No matter how tired, frustrated, and disappointed I've been, I've gotten to 5:00pm and gone home. Well...sometimes it's not until 7:00 or 8:00, but I'm more than fairly compensated for that.

But I won't lie; it's tough. Some nights I'm kept awake by the thought that she hasn't actually done anything to get her kid back. I mean, waking up and visiting with her kid three times a week is relatively good for someone with such a difficult past, but it's not enough in the eyes of the law. I don't know if she has the capacity to fully understand it though.

The LA Times printed two articles last week about how in 2008, our Department had 14 child deaths, ten of which are under investigation because the social worker might not have done enough. That kind of stuff kills morale, and it makes our administrators nervous. So they put more staff into Emergency Response and try to tighten up policies. But who knows how that's going to work out.

A lot of my Facebook friends from high school and college are lawyers now. I'm sure that isn't an easy job, but I doubt that most of them are ever in the position to be held accountable for a kid's death.

And then I think maybe I should've worked harder in school so that I could've gotten a cushier job that gave me more time to just sit around and be happy. But it's too late for that now.

I've been having these disturbing nightmares the past few nights. When I wake up, I don't recall what happened, but I just have a sense of dread. It's not fun. I know that I'm not looking forward to falling asleep. But somehow I still get tired enough to do it.

Research shows that most people who were hired under Title IV-E (like me) leave this job after paying back their two years, even in spite of the pretty good pay and benefits. I guess not a lot of people are willing to do this kind of work. I wonder if I'm one of them too.

Well, sleep will come to me. And then I'll wake up in a few hours and put on my wings for another week.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Assertiveness Training

If there's one constant positive that comes from my work, it's that I'm constantly learning. It's safe to say that this job has changed me. The anxieties and difficulties will pass, and I hope what's left will be a person who's more compassionate and empathic towards others.

I've been learning that compassion isn't always about letting people do what they want. I've avoided this reality for a long time, mostly because I've seen this reasoning used often to justify not being civil to people. There are people who say they're "real" and that they "tell it like it is" as an excuse for being mean. I hate to say it, but I've observed this phenomenon to occur most commonly in church.

But anyway I'm learning that there's some truth to the idea that doing the "nice" thing isn't always the most beneficial. Sometimes by being permissive and encouraging, I'm not helping. I guess it's kind of like euthanizing a suffering pet; nobody likes to see an animal in pain, but there are times when you have to choose the lesser of two evils.

No, I didn't have anybody killed. But I spent time with a grandmother this morning where I'd finally had enough, and I just laid it all out. It kind of felt good!

This is the grandmother who (unfortunately) got my County cell phone number and leaves me tons of voicemails during the day and even when I'm off the clock. Every message is basically telling me how I should be doing my job. She came to the office this morning to meet with me because I didn't return her three phone calls from last night at around 7:00. The issue is that her granddaughter is detained in foster care. I'm trying to get the granddaughter placed in the home with the grandmother (she was detained from mom), but unfortunately, all the adults in the home have extensive criminal records. This doesn't totally disqualify them from having her, but it does mean that I have to obtain a criminal clearance waiver through the state before she can be placed there. I don't approve the waiver; the state does. And I've been working on the Court Report for this family, not to mention handling the constant care that my teen mom needs.

Well, GM (grandma) decided that I'm not doing my job. She always threatens to tell my boss. Which is really fine, because THEY understand that I, like all child welfare workers, am responsible for the ongoing care of 20-30 other kids every month. This means being accountable to Court for their whereabouts and well-being, to their parents and family members for providing and verifying participation in services, to their substitute caregivers, etc. I don't just go to the office and twiddle my thumbs all day until I get a check (man...where do I sign up for THAT job?).

I'm not making an excuse for anything. The reality is that I have to do things when I get the time to do them. And I don't handle every step of the process.

GM doesn't seem to understand this. She also seems to like to hear herself talk. I usually take this stuff in stride--I'm not easily upset, and I rarely fire back at anybody for any reason. Other people have observed that this is one of the reasons I seem to be pretty good at this job. We're dealing with people who are so frustrating. It's not always their fault, so I try to be understanding. I also realise that I have to work with these people, so it's in my best interest to not make them mad at me.

But that all ended this morning with GM. Like I said, she loves to talk. She made these accusations, and when I tried to respond, she would interrupt and talk about something else. I usually let this kind of behaviour go, but today I had enough. I handled it in the most polite way I could muster, asking her if it would be okay if I could finish what I was saying before I listened to what she had to say. I think she was really surprised by that.

I also told her that her criminal history isn't my problem. I've done my part in organizing the paperwork and submitting it, but that's where my responsibility ends. I can't force them to process it faster, nor can I definitively tell her when that will be done.

She's also gotten into some disagreements with the foster parents of her granddaughter, leading them to request a 30 day removal from the home. I pretty much told her that placement of children is left up to us (not her). I also told her that technically, she's not a party in this case, so the Court is extending her the courtesy of making orders (visitation, etc.), and that if she continues to interfere with the foster placement, I'll report the facts to the Court and request that they limit the grandparents' involvement. I wasn't making a threat. I sincerely don't want it to come to that. But if necessary, I'll do what I have to do.

I think the harshest thing I said was, "Please don't insult me by saying that I'm not working for you." It felt pretty good. Honestly, I'm not even accountable to her. I take time out to deal with her crap because I'm trying to be nice and to keep her involved. I hope she can understand this.

I'm pretty good at this job. Not the best by any stretch. But I truly care about what I do and I take steps to make sure that I'm doing things right. I'm not embarrassed to admit when I've made a mistake. At the same time, when I AM doing my job, I'll no longer stand for people who insinuate that I'm not.

This job is changing me. I think it's for the better.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Case of the Mondays.

It seems like what I need to solve the day is to go and buy some of those Dreyers strawberry fruit bars.

Some mornings are a lot tougher than others. Yesterday I went to a meet n greet with staff at my new church (Anglican) and when I told them I saw a social worker, one of the ladies said "I can see your wings". So it wasn't that bad going to work this morning.

Until I stepped outside and it was so hot. When I got to the office, my will to remain had dimished even more. Most people weren't even there yet! I also had two voicemails from a grandma who talks sooo much. There were two voicemails because she ran out of room on the first message. Usually, these messages are pretty urgent. But this message was complaining about how long she'd been waiting to get her home approved for placement. Dude--I'm not the one with an extensive criminal record that needs to be cleared by the state before we can place your granddaughter. Whatever. At some point, I decided "not today".

So I started to think that maybe I should just email the court reports, head home, and work on them over there. I could crank the A/C and the Elton John and just get everything done with minimal distractions.

That was the plan until I got a call from Court Transportation. Apparently teen mom got to Court and complained about cramping and bleeding (she's three months pregnant, remember?). Asked Court Transportation to bring her to County USC Hospital and consulted with our Public Health Nurses about how to get there.

My first trip to a public hospital was an eye-opening experience. There's no parking ANYWHERE, even with my magical parking placard that allows me to park without feeding meters or observing time limits. There are thousands of people everywhere. And the staff seems REALLY overworked.

Everyone's given up on this teen mom. Even me, sometimes. I guess I don't really believe. But somebody needed to be there when she was getting examined. While she was laying on the exam table, she whispered, "I think I might be losing the baby." I wanted to tell her not to think like that, but I didn't want to give her any false hope, so I just said "Wait until you hear what the doctor says. You just got here." I made the sign of the Cross and she smiled.

Turns out she's only six weeks pregnant. They had an ultrasound and the fetus is okay. She got impatient waiting for them to prepare the forms for her to sign, and she even started making comments to some of the other patients in the waiting room. It's really a roller coaster with this girl. She had seemingly just had to deal with mortality and then it was back to her old self.

I don't even know what else to do. This case is taking up too much of my time and I have 23 other people to look out for.

Well, I guess all I can do now is buy those Dreyers fruit bars and work on my report.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


I accepted an assignment to write an article for a church magazine. The topic is singleness. I don't even know if that's a real word, but it's a topic with which I am intimately familiar.

I played bass at a "Christian singles conference" awhile back. I attended the sessions but kinda skipped out at the end, because I felt like I was being told that the solution to the problems associated with being single is...to not be single! That's kinda like saying the solution to poverty is to not be poor.

Anyway, as a single person, I've heard a lot of different stuff. Here are my two pet peeves that I hear from people who probably mean well but should maybe know better:

1) "I just KNOW that God has the perfect person for you, and he's just preparing you for her."

How can anybody know that? It just feels patronizing.

2) "Don't pray for God to help you find 'the one'. Pray that God will make you into 'the one'."

The sinister implication here seems that I'm not praying for the right thing. And that all the non-single people are different because they prayed correctly. Screw that. This is similar to the advice to keep working on myself. I've worked with messed up families long enough to know that lots of non-singles haven't worked on themselves at all. So it's like a false dichotomy.

So...my advice is to stop giving advice to single people!

I think one of the significant challenges to being single is feeling unwanted, which kinda hurts. Loneliness isn't fun. I'll write more about it later, or in the article that I'm now responsible for submitting next month.

Well, it's the weekend now. Weather should be nice, dim sum is always nice. Gonna just enjoy it as much as I can.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Believe or Don't Believe - It Still Has to Get Done

With apologies to Arnel Pineda, I've stopped believing in the past few weeks.

My two teen moms both had turns for the worst. The first one got arrested and is detained at juvie because the D.A. decided to file against her for child endangerment. She had a delinquency hearing that I missed because I was dealing with another Court matter, and I also think that she needs to take responsibility for what she's done. Her case got transferred to Juvenile Probation anyway, so I'm not handling it. All I can do is still try to maintain her visitation schedule. Which isn't easy, especially when I don't have that kind of time.

And that's because of the other teen mom. I found out today that she and her foster mom have been running a kind of scam; she's allowed to stay overnight at her boyfriend's house and various other houses, and the foster mom gets her money. Foster mom called me this morning saying she didn't come home last night (which I later discovered was a pretty common occurrence, as I mentioned). She had a visit with her daughter at the office today, but because she didn't come home, I canceled it by calling her baby's foster mom and telling her not to bring the kid. I had to go to a Livescan appointment this morning and when I got back to the office, the teen mom was there. Apparently somebody had dropped her off for her visit. She was raising hell about not getting her visit.

Everybody knows when this teen mom is in the office. We get a lot of kids in the office. Sometimes, foster parents who are frustrated just take the kids there and drop them off, and the worker has to figure out where to place them immediately. Other times, the placement does what it's legally required to do by giving seven day removal notice.

But most kids don't show up at the office screaming profanities at everybody and trying to act all tough. My teen mom isn't "most kids". When she's there, everyone knows it. And I think it kind of scares them. It used to scare me a little bit too, but I'm used to it. But more than that, I still have a job to do.

Once we found out about this secret agreement with her foster mom, my supervisor and I determined that there was no way she was going back to that foster home. The problem is that there aren't many (or any) foster homes that will welcome a pregnant kid with mental illness, oppositional/defiant behavior, heavy gang involvement, and a tendency to cuss out anyone who she determines to be "not helping" her.

I took her into the office area and had her sit at my desk. Even though I told her she couldn't use the phone, she figured out how to dial 9 and then the number and was talking to someone from the gang. Well, that's only a guess. She was telling the person on the other line to find "Blinky" and have somebody "dealt with". I asked her to get off the phone, to which she angrily replied "Why?" I told her that I had other work to do and needed to use the computer. For some reason, that worked.

She refused to sit in a chair; just sat on the floor and started kicking a box and complaining about social workers using lots of words that you don't expect kids to use when they're surrounded by adults.

I'm used to this kid. Over the past two months, I've seen her at least three times a week (sometimes five times a week). I've heard everything she has to say about social workers and this morning I didn't feel like arguing with her or even trying to reason with her. It's hard to get me riled up, and again...I knew that I would have to find a placement.

Well, another worker came by. I'd seen her in the office before, but had never really spoken with her at length. She asked if she could talk with teen mom, to which I gladly agreed. This gave me a little peace to handle my work and it was much appreciated.

Then another lady stopped by my desk and asked if I was okay. I said I was. She tried to reassure me by saying that working with this case will help me in the future, because I'll be ready for anything and I'll know how to handle it. That was nice.

I also received a lot of support from other staff members. A lot of people know this girl--she's 17 and has been in the system since she was 3. The public health nurses stopped by to check in with her, and so did the case aide who helps me monitor her visits with her daughter.

Teen mom was yelling about how the stuff I was doing was making her stomach hurt and how she was going to lose her baby. I'd heard that before, but the case aide asked if teen mom wanted to go to the hospital to which she replied in the affirmative. Oh, great. But the case aide volunteered to take her there. Wow. Of course that was fine with me.

While teen mom was gone, more people stopped by to check in with me to make sure I was okay and to ask if I needed any help. Everyone has work to do; nobody else is responsible for MY stuff, but all of these people were willing to contribute. Some people had connections with different placements, other people offered to help me call names on the list of possible homes.

All the while, the case aide was at County Hospital with this teen mom. That couldn't have been easy. I heard from her when she was at the hospital. The clinic is always jam packed, and she said they might be there awhile. She was scheduled to monitor a visit from 2:00-4:00 and asked if I could find someone else to handle it. I didn't want to ask anyone, so I just planned to monitor it myself. However, I found the worker for that visit and she told me to just take care of my own stuff and that she would monitor it. Wow.

This post has gone on for too long, but in the end, everything worked out as well as I could have hoped for. It's not done by any stretch, but I got home a little after 7 and took my nap.

There have been times of frustration over the past month when I've responded to people, only half-jokingly, that people can't really change. I think that may be true. But for all the awesome coworkers who stepped in to help me in my time of need, I hope they don't change.

The guy who sits next to me has been a CSW III at the County for 22 years. By contrast, when I promote to CSW III next year, I plan to do that for the required year and then promote into administration (if I even last that long!). Somehow, this guy still seems grounded and calm when things go wrong. We chat while we're doing work, and I'm trying to catch a hold of his attitude and what makes him tick. What he says is correct: you have to do what you're responsible for. But when your day is over, get the hell home and take care of your life. You might have a bunch of other stuff to do when you get back the next day, but you have to train yourself to hit the switch that turns off work until then. I'm writing in my blog so I don't know if it counts, but I'm gonna do my best to follow his advice.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Writing a Court Report for work. I'm not getting paid overtime for it, but it's something that needs to be done. I hope it doesn't become a habit.

Last week was the toughest of all. Friday on the way to work, I thought about turning the car back around and just driving somewhere far, far away. I don't mean to be a queen, but I'd never felt that way about work before.

Well, I got through the day and by 6:00pm, I was home again. Like every other day, my nightmare ended and I was on my own time again. There are still people who work a whole lot more for a whole lot less.

Tomorrow morning it's back to the same thing. Five days of doing really difficult work, and then two days off. I guess I just have to take it day by day, just like people who are in recovery.

I'm glad I went to church for Resurrection Sunday. I woke up late and even thought about not going, but then I remembered that the second service was moved from 10:15 to 11:00, so I didn't have any excuse. It was a cool experience. This morning they had a brass quintet.

So what the heck is the resurrection about anyway? Sometimes it just seems like crazy superstition. And it's certainly not something I'm thinking about when 3 of my 24 kids have some kind of crisis that needs to be dealt with right away. Or when a parent criticizes the work I'm doing.

I have no answer for this. It's not going to turn into one of those uplifting blog posts where I conclude that there's really no problem with anything. I wish that I could, but this burden has been weighing on my soul and it won't go away.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Go and change the world.

So we got back from vacation today. It's weird--I'm 30 years old, and there are only a few times when I haven't been on vacation with my dad and mom. This was the first time when returning from vacation meant returning right back to work. The plane had barely touched the ground before I became immersed in my voicemails from work. A kid needs a ride to a Juvenile Court hearing first thing in the morning. So I gotta wake up at 6 and head out to Compton so we can be in Pasadena by 8:30. What fun.

It doesn't feel right to complain about work when there are so many people who are willing to work that don't have jobs. And having a job where I feel like I'm doing something. And getting into the job just before the economy stuff started to get REALLY bad. I'm in a good place.

I always think about that when I get home. No matter how long the day's been, and the crap that I've had to endure for the day--at the end, I go home and I have time that belongs to me. I'm not stuck in some horrible nightmare that never ends; when I'm off the clock, I'm valued and appreciated and cared for. That's more than a lot of my clients can say.

When I was leaving my parents' house, my dad said "go and change the world". I thought that was pretty funny. I guess it's a running gag among public social welfare workers that what we do is supposed to be so important, but in reality, a lot of time it amounts to not much more than babysitting and mediation and filling out lots of forms.

Yeah, not a lot of what I do is world-changing. I think that's why I still believe in God. I can't really change the world. I don't even want to change myself.

All told, I really kinda suck. Someone noted that I don't seem to get angry at my clients, even the ones who have done horrific things to people around them. I think it's probably because I don't really see a lot of difference between them and me, in terms of the potential to do really stupid, destructive things.

So when I cry out to Jesus, "Save us!", in the next breath I find myself saying "Crucify him!". Because really, it's hard to change and I don't really want to do it.

So what's the good news? Jesus died for me, a sinner. Not for who I think I should be, or who others think I should be. Jesus died for "those people" too. He can change the world.

So that's why I do what I do.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Writing from the Emerald City

It's a wonderful place. Somehow we managed to travel on days when the weather was perfect. I could definitely see myself living here.

In two days I go right back to reality. I barely get a break. Work starts back up on Wednesday morning, when I drive to Compton to pick up my kid who has to go to Juvenile Court. They're just going to drop the charges against her and release her into DCFS custody (which means I just bring her back to her foster home), but she still has to appear. It makes no sense. And the foster mother doesn't provide transportation. Weak. Then I have to finish a Court Report that I should've turned in on the 6th, and I have to try and get a kid out of foster care (I just put here there on Thursday) whose mother is having a major dispute with her grandparents, making it really difficult to just release her to the care of the grandparents. AUGH!

No false humility; I haven't worked hard at very much in life. That's why this is such a huge shock to me. I'm busy every minute of the day, and some days I even stay late. It's just not something I'm used to. But I guess it's only fair, right?

I even thought about ways to fake my own death, but realised that would probably be too difficult. Even more difficult than just doing my job?

It seems like the best way to handle the job is to just take it a day at the time. When I wake up, I don't know if it's gonna be a slow day or a busy one, but either way, I'm going to have to deal with it. And then the next day will happen and I'll deal with that. When I think of it that way, it doesn't seem like as big of a deal.

Hmm...I wonder what social services in Washington would be like. Wouldn't be able to relocate until July 25, 2010, but that isn't THAT far off.

Friday, April 3, 2009

And it all comes crashing down.

Not ALL of it. Just enough to give me a much-needed dose of reality.

To paraphrase Greg Lemond, the job doesn't get more depressing; you just get more realistic.

One of the minor mothers--the one whose case got picked up by Probation--was arrested today. That was sad news. I think being incarcerated might affect her efforts to reunify with her son. Since I'm not handling her case (only her son's case), I don't know what the charges are. I'd like to ask her what she was thinking, but I'm sure she's probably heard it all before. It's just sad that she was doing so well, and now this.

Another one of my kids got arrested too! He turned 18 last month, but I asked the Court to retain jurisdiction until I could make sure that he graduated from high school. Well, I don't think he's gonna be graduating anytime soon. Instead, he'll be serving time for possession and intent to sell, which I think is a felony. It's a weird feeling to do an inmate search for one of my child clients.

It gets worse, though. Apparently this guy's legal guardian was aware of the drug-selling situation but she was fearful because he threatened to have her killed if she told anybody. I wonder how long that's been going on. Maybe it's easier to not know.

But by far, the saddest thing this week was having to detain a five year old girl and to place her in a foster home. I knew she was scared and didn't want to go, so I asked her to be brave and I even gave her my cell number so that she could ask her foster mom to call me if she got too scared. She called me three or four times; each time was heartbreaking.

I think I have pretty good boundaries, so I don't beat myself up if parents can't get it together. I don't make their choices for them. But doing what's best for the safety of the kid is really hard when it actually hurts the kid.

This one gets worse too. I arranged with the foster mom to make sure that this kid could see her family over the weekend. But just before I left for the day, I got a voice mail informing me that the foster mom wasn't going to allow visitation over the weekend because of something between this girl's mom and grandmother. Their relationship is volatile and apparently they can't manage to stay calm even for the sake of the kid.

Anyway, I think this four day vacation will still be good for me.