Monday, March 1, 2010

Social Work and the “cold shoulder”

Today I was asked by a client to attend court with her – to offer support. This was fine by me she hadn’t yet found a lawyer to represent her in the youth court. Another lawyer bailed on her and she was needing a little moral support as she faced another round of emotional abuse at the hand of a system which is more inclined to look after itself than it is to consider how others are interacting with the system.

As I was waiting in front of the court room I was informed by the bailiff that I wasn’t able to enter the court because I was likely to be called as a witness. Now this is true and I certainly understand the reason for this but when I saw the client’s social worker from Families SA go in I thought “now that doesn’t seem right”. Even though it hadn’t been decided whether the case was going to trial at this point. An insignificant but vaguely relevant fact. If I was going to be a witness for this client then I am reasonably sure that the social worker in charge of this case is also going to be called as a witness. Social Workers are always called to talk about the reasons why the child was removed. Why is it then was I told that I was not allowed into the court room?

As time goes by I am becoming more and more cynical. Could this double standard be the crowns effort to control by preventing my client from receiving any support while in the court room? Is it possible that a social worker who strives for clients to be represented by whom ever they choose and who understands concepts of equity and fairness and who practices according to social work values, would try to limit and restrict the trade of another social workers? One would hope not.

Then there was the cold shoulder. The social worker concerned is someone with whom I have a great deal of respect and believed was a valuable addition to our profession. As she approached me I thought, “Will she have the courage to eyeball me or would she ignore me?” She made every effort to not look at me. A couple of weeks before in a meeting with this same client she also found it difficult looking at me. I am able to understand that I am not the greatest looking guy on earth but I am also not the worst either.

So what is the “Cold Shoulder” really about. Do I make her feel uncomfortable? Perhaps. But why? The last and only time I met with her was in my office about the above mentioned client and I thought it went well. Obviously I misread the signs because it must have gone badly for her. I wonder what I must have said or what impression I left which would have caused someone to give the “Cold Shoulder” with such purpose and zeal?

There are many people who give me the “Cold Shoulder” at Families SA so it is no longer all that concerning. I figure that if I am getting under their skin and causing this sort of response and am basically doing nothing but what social workers are meant to do and what they are meant to do but don’t, then I must have heaps of power I didn’t know I had.

What is important is that each week I work with over forty people and there is not one who would give me the cold shoulder because I know that the quality of the work I do is more than competent and they experience the benefit of my training and skills. I wonder how many social workers with Families SA could make the same statement. So give me the cold shoulder as much as you like. You have no power over me. As you avoid my gaze next time ask what am I doing this for. Think about how silly you look and how unprofessional you are behaving.

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