This is a question which I find more puzzling as I realise that no matter how much time you put into something, or how passionate I become it makes very little difference. My experience has been that the more “the system”is challenged the greater the resistance. I wonder if those who work within structures that produce poor results all feel as helpless from the inside as I do from the outside. When does “learned helplessness” take over so that every client they see is identified as “too hard” and the training they received or the reason why they entered Social Work somehow has dissipated into a past memory and suppressed emotion.
I have many clients who potentially sit in the “too hard basket”. Often this is where a person’s beliefs are so entrenched that it is difficult finding the intervention that will cause them to shift. I know it would be easy to tell myself that I could be working with other clients who have better prospects and who will do the work that will bring about change. But I know that if I wasn’t working with these people that they would find it difficult finding people that would work with them. They all have a history of some contact with a worker then the worker has to cease the work because the organisation has limited resources and are unable to see any progress so they are told to find someone else.
My guess that there are many of these people trapped in a system which doesn’t care about them and isn’t prepare for the long haul. They get shunted from one service provider to another or give up entirely. As a private practitioner it is my decision alone which will determine the length of service. I believe that if a person is prepared to remain engaged, and I believe my involvement will eventually produce some change then I will remain for as long as it takes. If I was working for another organisation I wouldn’t have that authority. If I was told to move on from a client whom I believed in and couldn’t do the work in the clients time frame then I guess I might become a little jaded – certainly disillusioned. I can remember when I was working as a therapist in a gambling program the most critical comments made of me, and there were many, was that I was not restricting the number of sessions with clients. I certainly resisted the notion that the client had to fit into the agencies time frame.
If I was working within the child protection system I would feel absolute frustration because the time frame is often determined by legal requirements. A voluntary care agreement (VCA) means that the practitioner has to see a significant change in a mater of a few months. Most practitioners probably find that acceptable and because they don’t see any change will then apply for a twelve month order or go straight to a Guardianship of the Minister to 18 (GOM18). If a Social Worker is skilled enough perhaps they would be able to engage with the client in a meaningful way which would enable change and perhaps a partnership could be developed which would ensure that the child is safe and that the parent is able to be the parent they need to be. However, if the Social Worker sees all clients through the “learned helplessness” filter then the client is damned before they even enter court for the first time.
Frankly, we give up on clients because that is the easy alternative. The “system” allows and supports it. Social Workers support this idea because they haven’t the guts to change the system because sometimes it fits with there own level of incompetence.
Once we give up on one client we will find reasons to give up on others until we get to a point where we will be looking for reasons to give up on them all.