Sunday, October 21, 2012

Social Work becomes personal

How often does Social Work become personal? I had an experience recently where I found myself feeling irritated and angry. I found myself saying something to the another Social Worker which was unprofessional and unhelpful to my client and the process we were endevouring to implement  I spoke in a threatening manner and made a statement which was rather attacking. The very behaviour which I abhor I found myself participating in. To think that I lost control when there wasn't anything that the other participants in the meeting were doing which was offensive. Fortunately I had a long drive after the meeting and used that time to consider what I had done and what there was about the meeting which caused me to feel so uncomfortable. I realise that I can not offer an excuse for bad behaviour so I am not doing that here. What I am reflecting on is why I chose to say what I did in the way I said it?

Often we are confronted with practice issues which are long standing and perhaps eat away at the core of our being. It is difficult sometimes to maintain a sense of calm when inside you are churning with resentment and bewilderment at the senseless behaviour of others. I think it is even more frustrating when we can see the issue very clearly and when other professionals don't "get" it we begin to wonder if we are the one who is missing something vital here.

It takes a great deal of courage to believe in the stance you may be making. Regardless of the monolithic system which prohibits your client from having a voice. It is important for each one of us to resist the temptation to give up and believe in what "the system" may be wanting us to believe. Social Workers often became integrated into the dominant system and fail to think beyond it, or fail to fight it from within. What I am unable to understand is why Social Workers consistently fail clients by acquiescing to values which contradict those of the profession.

When I was confronted recently with a Social Worker who was working hard to engage with the client and to say the "right" things, I found myself becoming very uncomfortable. Given that the Social Worker was doing the above it surprised me that I felt so hostile towards him. What I came to realise that it didn't matter how competent he was at engaging with the client he was unable to provide the solution we have been working towards for a number of years. Even if he believed the parents offered no threat to their daughter he was unable to provide a pathway for her to be returned to them. He insisted that he worked independently of "the system" and that he didn't care what those in authority thought, he was going to make his own assessment and do what he thought was in the best interest of the child. What caused me to respond so badly was that as much as I wanted to believe that he had the best intentions and that he would be able to provide a better outcome for this child, I realised that this rhetoric meant nothing because there was no plan on offer and their was no discussion around how the child could be best returned to the parents.

In my mind I was transported back to a place, twelve months before, when we had asked for an assessment to be done of the family and even though the department acknowledged improvements it cut the access from one day to week to a few hours a fortnight. Never before have I felt so betrayed. That feeling of betrayal still sits deeply in my gut. I could see us heading back to this position and there is no way I wanted myself nor my client to experience this sense of humiliation and hopelessness again. Writing about this now brings the emotions to the surface and I can feel the anger stirring inside me.

Even though I have acted badly around this emotion, I have apologised to this poor unsuspecting Social Worker, I will always use this emotion to realise how cruel other professionals can be, and that no matter how well-meaning a worker may be, it isn't until they produce a plan which fits with the clients and is working towards the same outcome that there will be a complete sense of trust.

If you are unable to do what we are asking then for God sake be honest and DON"T sugar coat your conversations with me nor my client. That is so disrespectful and patronising and devalues out profession.