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.

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