Welcome to The New Social Worker's Blog

The New Social Worker is the quarterly magazine for social work students and recent graduates, focusing on social work careers for those new to the profession. This blog is a companion to the free online magazine at http://www.socialworker.com.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Place to Call Home


And because of her circumstances, there is nowhere for her to lay her weary head. She's just a kid. An innocent young woman of 16 who came into the world with unfortunate circumstances. Her mother is addicted to crack-cocaine, HIV-positive, and currently institutionalized for suicidal ideation.

It's a mess. We have been working on finding a placement for this young person for days. Because she is an offender, there are stipulations on where she can be placed. She can't be around other children.

As I lay my body down to rest tonight, I will send up a prayer for this young woman/child who is carrying a heavy burden. I wish for her a clean, warm, dry, pleasant place that she can call home.

~Ms. T. J.

Monday, September 28, 2009

I said: "Doctor: Is there something I can take?"

I WENT TO THE DOCTOR this morning partly because I was having some flu-like symptoms, and partly because of my anxiety. The good news comes on both fronts: no viral infections are present, and she gave me some really good advice regarding my anxiety. My doc said that when she was in med school she struggled with the same types of stuff I am experiencing now.

She supported my decision to study away from my home. She shared her experiences of finding private little spots among the stacks in her university's library. She said that it's normal to not want to study or do homework and our mind will tell us we need to do almost anything to prevent us from studying.

She also suggested that I create deadlines and schedules for myself. She said my brain wants that, especially since I worked in the publishing world for more than a decade (I noticed my brain was in resistance mode while she was talking, however).

So I came home and I got out the egg-timer. I've set it for an hour. I will allow myself an hour of computer time, including writing my blog, and then I will re-set it and clean the house for one hour. At 5 p.m., I am going for a one-hour walk with a friend. I will come home, have dinner with my husband, and then hit the books or go to a meeting (12-step) for an hour. I must relax from 9-10 p.m. and get in the bed by 10 p.m.

I feel better already!

~Ms. T. J.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Grad school blues

SOMETIMES I CAN'T WAIT until I graduate. Other days I can stay in the moment and enjoy this trip. Today is not one of the latter. I told my husband this morning that I want "Alice" from the Brady Bunch, or someone (males, included) to cook and clean the house for us.

I am beating myself up for not cooking healthier meals, walking the dog, exercising, enjoying nature and cleaning more often. Then I get angry at my husband for not doing these things though that's not really fair because he is working extra jobs to make up for the income that we lost when I quit my job. He also does a lot of the cooking, and I am really grateful for that. I think I am just frustrated.

I would love to hear from the rest of you about how you get through this part of the grad school experience without driving yourself crazy! If I could just let myself off the hook for another semester and a half, I will have plenty of time to do all of these things. I guess it's been a long time (since January 2008) and it is starting to wear on me. It's probably normal, huh?

~Ms. T. J.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Ready to Share

AFTER I MET WITH my young client and her siblings, I needed some time to process the experience. I think I am ready to share tonight.

I arrived at the foster home where they have been placed, a gorgeous house which was newly built and filled with amenities that many people can only dream of having. The furniture was new and the carpet plush. A large flat-screened TV filled an entire wall and everything was spotless. The house was appropriately appointed for housing children. The foster parents are both professionals who have biological children, as well.

The foster kids are flourishing. Each child has put on weight, when just over a month ago they were malnourished and underweight. They were happily chattering and playing. My client, the oldest of the children, was so excited about school (she had previously been "home-schooled" by her biological parents). She is academically behind in classes, and I feel certain if she could catch up by means of her spirit of willingness alone, she would already be there. So proud of her spelling test was she; it didn't matter that her score was less than 50 percent. She doesn't understand the concept of school yet.

These kids never left the house when they were being held captive by their parents. Neighbors who were interviewed by investigators said they didn't even know there were children in the home. When the house had been investigated, there were no beds, clothing nor ample food for the children. They all spent most of their waking lives in diapers and they slept on the floor or in closets.

What must it be like for them now? How different it must seem to these young children who were robbed of the basic necessities -- now that they have every need met.

I may never know what they are feeling right now. And that is okay.

All I need is to witness the healthiness of their bodies and the pure joy in their speech and play to know that there is a God, and miracles happen.

~Ms. T. J.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Partners in time

I AM SO TIRED. Because my goal is to blog everyday, I feel obligated to write a couple of words, at least.

At field today I accompanied a case manager on an investigation, had a delicious lunch with her, and did a bit of paperwork-related work at the office before we headed back out to the field. Though we didn't catch anyone at home (this happens in investigations), I learned lots of lessons from the passenger seat. She may not know it, but this child welfare worker is teaching me the ropes. I am watching her as she maneuvers through the days, and she does it really well. She often sells herself short, but I can see the good she's doing. And, I'm grateful to be along for the ride. Literally.

Ms. T. J.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mid-terms and long walks

I THINK I AM ONTO SOMETHING HERE. Movement is a good thing. Sitting for too long is not. On Mondays, I have been "playing" for a major portion of the day. By playing, I mean not studying, working on school work or attending any school-related activity. This morning a friend and I walked through a city park and kept walking until we reached the edge of downtown. Then we turned around and came back.

I live in a tourist town, and I don't always take advantage of the very sights and sounds that people come here to experience. No more, I say! I, too, will wander through the beautiful streets of my town and breathe in this city that is so very naturally green.

And you know what? When I returned to my school desk in the middle of the day, I was able to pound out my second mid-term assignment in no time. My mind was clear and my body was awake.

So, it only took me half a lifetime to figure this out; it's also taken me that long to know I wanted to be a social worker. I am on a roll!

~Ms. T. J.

Wear the world as a loose garment

SO THERE I WAS, WORKING ON MY TAKE-HOME MID-TERM EXAM, and in the midst of it, I was reminded of a meditation verse from many years past. So I Googled the words I could remember and I found a beautiful treasure:

"I must live in the world and yet live apart with God.
I can go forth from my secret times of communion with God
to the work of the world.
To get the spiritual strength I need,
my inner life must be lived apart from the world.
I must wear the world as a loose garment.
Nothing in the world should seriously upset me,
as long as my inner life is lived with God." (Richmond Walker, 1948)

~Ms. T. J.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Top 10


This morning, one of our professors announced the names of graduate students who are in the top 10 percent of our class, and guess what? I made the cut. I needed to hear this today for some reason. I have been struggling the past week, and I guess I was being a doubter. I know it's normal to feel stressed out while in graduate school, yet knowing it's normal doesn't make it feel any better.

I also know that even if I hadn't made the grade, I would still be a valuable and gifted human being, as are the students who fell below the 10 percent line. I have to be careful not to base my self-worth on a number -- be it on the scale or on a transcript.

AND, it feels damn good to have worked this hard and to achieve membership in Alpha Kappa Mu.

~Ms. T. J.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Comic relief

TONIGHT MY HUSBAND AND I were given a lovely gift: two tickets to see Jerry Seinfeld. I laughed. A lot. And it felt really great to throw my head back and chuckle, and to watch my husband do the same.

I could write about how it felt to walk into my newly assigned office (with a window) at my internship this morning [it felt great]; or how it felt to sit in the courtroom this afternoon and watch the mom I've been blogging about as she spoke from her heart, telling the judge that this is the high point of her life, even though she's in jail and her baby is in foster care because she is sober and wants her baby and will fight for her [to say I was deeply touched is an understatement]; or I could write about my uneasiness when the foster parent was saying not-so-compassionate words about the birth mom [I was concerned about her].

Instead, I will let it all go for now and acknowledge that I have a life outside of my internship, my future career. I can care like the dickens for clients, and still choose to get away from it all and laugh with friends ~ and Jerry Seinfeld.

~Ms. T. J.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Jailhouse blues

TODAY I MET THE PARENT of the infant who was placed in foster care yesterday. As soon as we told her that her baby had been temporarily placed, she broke down. She understands. She's in jail; she can't bring the baby into the jailhouse.

Her pain was palpable.

I cannot pretend to understand her predicament. Here she is, healing from a Cesarean birth, in a cell with a stranger, grieving the loss of her just-born child who was literally taken from her womb, and then taken from her arms. Yes, she made her bed. Yes, she used poor judgement. And she states she has been clean for two and a half years. And she wants her baby back.

Seeing all sides of the situation adds another dimension. The joy on the foster parent's face; the pain on the mother's face. The foster parent's inability to understand the plight of the biological parent. The gratitude and sorrow felt by the mother toward the foster care system.

I hugged the mother as she wept. She seemed so all alone in that cell, without her baby whom she has been with in a very real way for nine months. She is a human being who made a big mistake. She said she can't stop crying. I told her it was okay.

Crying makes perfect sense to me.

~Ms. T. J.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Oh, baby. What a day!

MY DAY STARTED WITH A TRIP to one of our hospitals where we met a foster parent who was preparing to take home a newborn baby. The biological parent is incarcerated and there are no relatives with whom placement would be appropriate. The baby was so beautiful and healthy and was surrounded by a team of loving nurses and staff. They had nurtured and cared for the baby until the foster parent arrived.

This was a pretty intense experience. The foster parent's eyes filled with tears when the baby was brought out. The foster parent and a friend had brought everything a baby might need: a carrier, a new outfit for the day, and most of all love and affection.

My day ended at a youth detention center where a caseworker and I met with a 16-year-old teen whose fate is in limbo due to the parent's inability and perhaps unwillingness to care for the child. The caseworker and I could see many strengths in this young person, yet there are so many precarious circumstances that stand in the way of a healthy and happy future.

One day. Two unwanted children. One temporary solution. One frustrating situation.

It's down-on-my-knees-to-pray time...

~Ms. T. J.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Going with the flow

Dahlonega Falls

IT'S BEEN A MONTH since I quit my job. I left so that I:
a.) wouldn't have to quit school, because something had to give
b.) would be able to focus on my new career of social work
c.) could have some semblance of a healthy life
d.) could see my husband and dog during waking hours

I am just now starting to set a schedule and get into a groove. I was concerned for a while that "breakneck speed" was the only way I could do this. I was having difficulty getting motivated and setting a study schedule. Looking back, I was doing just fine. It's difficult to leave a comfort zone. Of course, I expected everything to fall into place.

And, you know what? It truly has.

Tonight as I sat down to dinner with my husband after a three-hour study session at the library, I knew I could take the rest of the night off. I am consciously setting aside time for me, too, and I think it will make a big difference in my overall enjoyment of this process of earning a MSW. Who said it has to so hard, anyway? Maybe there is a way to make it a little less grueling and a lot more fun. Maybe it's called going with the flow...

~Ms. T. J.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Where were you when the twin towers fell?

I WAS DRIVING TO THE NEWSPAPER office where I worked when I heard a radio station broadcasting the first reactions to what was going on that day. I remember when I walked into the building, I started talking about it, and most people hadn't yet heard. I pulled a friend aside and said, "Cesar, let's go up to the newsroom and look at the TV monitors." Eyes glued to the tube, we watched in disbelief as the events unfolded. It was surreal then and, some days, I still find it hard to fathom that it really happened.

In my Crisis Management class I am memorizing Roberts 7 Stage Crisis Intervention Model. I know it will be on the exam so I am breaking it down. I imagine a firefighter or other first responder as they may have walked into a therapist's office for the first time to ask for help.

1. Plan and conduct a biopsychosocial and crisis assessment including a lethality assessment.
2. Establish rapport and rapidly establish collaboration.
3. Identify major problems.
4. Deal with feelings and provide support.
5. Evaluate alternate solutions.
6. Assist with action plan.
7. Follow up.

As I close my eyes on this day, the anniversary of what the world refers to as 9-11, I send out love and prayers to all those who lost loved ones. I cannot imagine your pain. May you find continued support and healing all the days of your lives.

~Ms. T. J.

Makeover for social workers, anyone?

I received an interesting request and am passing the info along to any social workers out there who may be interested....

Good Housekeeping TV is planning a holiday makeover special. They are looking for women in demanding professions--and specifically social workers--to give a free makeover. The chosen candidates will receive free haircuts and color at a top salon in New York City and will appear on the TV show.

Why social workers? I was told, "...because they help out other families all year long, so we wanted to treat them to a makeover focused on giving back...for all the hard work they do throughout the year."

Being pampered in this way can be a form of self-care. And, if a social worker is chosen, it is one more way (if an unusual one) to get the profession of social work "out there" in the public eye.

If you are interested, e-mail a few recent pictures of yourself, along with your phone number, to ghtv2@hearst.com. Also, include a few sentences about why you think you are a good candidate and deserving of a makeover. Candidates must live within 45 minutes of New York City.

If you (or a colleague or friend) are chosen for the show, please let me know at linda.grobman@paonline.com.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Post from the public library

TONIGHT IS MY SECOND STUDY ADVENTURE outside of the house. I met my husband for dinner at a rustic pizza joint before I crossed the street to head into our city's main public library branch. It's 8:30 p.m. now and they just announced the library will be closing in 30 minutes.

I am looking around at the people who fill the chairs tonight. Many are on computers, some are studying and others, well, I don't know what they are doing.

I think this will work for me. I will suggest it to my study pal for Sunday or Monday. All of my basic needs are met. There is air conditioning, comfortable seating, bathrooms, and water fountains.

I was able to concentrate and if I get really OCD about noise, there is a third floor that is sparsely appointed where the rules are strict for seating and talking. I thought I'd try sitting with others tonight and, though I had to move once due to a chatting couple, I found a quiet nook in an area that is set off as a business center where there are fewer people and it feels peaceful.

I have just 8 minutes left on this computer (yes, there is a time length, and I like the fairness of this!).

I know that one day I will look back on this time of my life and marvel at the courage, strength and sheer determination that I and my classmates -- both at my school and in cyberspace, have mustered to achieve this master's degree in social work.

~Ms. T. J.

Art therapy

In the Spring 2009 issue of The New Social Worker, we published an article about art and photo therapy, focusing on ways that some social workers are combining these therapies with more traditional "talk" therapy. The arts are very powerful means of expression and are often very effective in getting to a deeper level of emotion than "just" talking.

I came across an interesting example of art therapy...the Children's Art Therapy Calendar.

The artwork in this calendar is from the art therapy program at Aldea Children and Family Services, a California social services agency. The award-winning calendar shows the power of art therapy. According to art therapist Al Friedman on Aldea's Web site, "Words alone are not enough to express what children feel. This is especially true when they are faced with the complex issues of divorce, grief, violence, abuse, neglect or coping with a disability. That is why art therapy has become an integral part of the treatment program at Aldea Children and Family Services."

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Double happiness

SOMETIMES I HIT THE WALL. It takes a long time, and my wall is probably similar to some peoples' walls and different from others'. I usually hit it after too many late nights of study, topped off with trying to do too many other housework-related and/or work-related tasks.

I hit one today at 5 p.m. as I left my field practicum.

So, instead of heading to the public library to do more of the same, I turned my car around and headed to the downtown Farmer's Market where I collected hugs, free tomatoes, a too-fresh peach, a bag of just-picked green beans, a lavender cupcake, and a $5 dollar necklace with an inscription carved on it that I was told means "double happiness" (I'll take two).

As I walked out of the tented market (no walls to hit there), I smiled as I dropped a dollar bill in the musician's guitar case.

~Ms. T. J.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Finding friends

I HAVE BEEN IN FIELD for a month now and I am learning a lot. I am breathing when I remember and trying to relax. The days of being in charge at the magazine are over. There I knew just what to do and when. Now, I know little, and the lack of structure has become my only structure!

I am happy to get to know the people who fill the offices and cubicles at the child welfare agency. They have been kind and patient. One caseworker in particular offers a smile and helping hand. She's very professional and I like her style. She cares about people and though she may not identify herself in this way, she definitely uses the strengths perspective in her dealings with clients.

My field instructor, though incredibly busy, has come through for me in every way I need in regard to school needs. I don't expect her to be at my side 24/7, and it's a good thing!

There is an administrative person who I like a bunch, too. She seems to hold things together, as most office manager types do. I appreciate her.

I'm getting acquainted with a guy who also blogs, and he shared some of his writing with me today.

I am trying to add to the mix. I hope I can be a useful worker in the group. I was reading about how important it is to be a member in this life, be it a community, a workplace, and/or a family. Sign me up!

~Ms. T. J.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Lessons at the coffeeshop

TODAY I VENTURED OUT to study with my new homework pal. We went to a coffeehouse and with steaming cups of java in hand, we settled into big comfy chairs. Soon we moved outside where it was quieter and easier to concentrate.

I had noticed a beautiful and friendly Chinese woman when I was inside. She had seemed to want to communicate with me, but just waved. I waved back. After a couple of hours, she also came outside. She sat for a while and, just as I was deep into reading Dennis Saleeby's textbook about the strengths perspective -- specifically a paragraph about the suspension of disbelief, she approached me.

In broken English she explained to me that she has only been in the United States for two days (from China). She handed me her cell phone to show me that she is getting text messages. I was amazed at my ability to mostly understand her because we exchanged very few words. Her concern was that her money was being eaten up by these unsolicited text messages. They appeared to be spam-type messages. I was able to ascertain her carrier, which is the same as mine, and I dialed on her behalf.

I told the T-Mobile representative that I was a social worker(!) and that I was trying to help a Chinese woman who spoke very little English. In a reasonable amount of time, the rep was able to decipher the woman's name and number and, altogether, the three of us determined to disable the text messaging capabilities. The woman was very much in agreement with this and understood what was going to be done.

The very professional T-Mobile rep also credited the woman's account with a couple of dollars to help defray the cost of the texts. I thought this was really quite wonderful. It's amazing what $2 can mean to someone who is in a foreign country with seeming limited resources.

I may have been reading about the the strengths perspective, but my real lesson came in the form of a trusting Chinese woman who must have seen the social worker in me.

~Ms. T. J.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Study pal

TODAY WHILE FLOATING IN THE POOL with friends, I shared my dilemma of studying. When I am at home, I will do anything (this morning I baked a pie!) to NOT do my homework. Usually it's housework that distracts me, and we all know that's a diversion tactic, because who wants to do that!?

I was throwing out the idea of going to the public library, or Starbucks, or a bookstore to study. All at once it occurred to me, and another friend verbalized it: Why not study with a classmate? One of my friends is also a non-traditional student and, unlike some of our classmates, she and I don't live on campus, in a dorm. We are both often isolated in our homes while our partners are at work.

When we were undergrad students as younger people, we may have studied alone, but we were often doing so in public places (campus library, dorm or other student housing) with others who were doing the same thing. We weren't quite so isolated.

Tomorrow, my study pal and I are going to meet at a coffee shop to read our textbooks. I am psyched about this. I think I may have found a solution!

~Ms. T. J.

We Want Your Comments!

A few months ago, I installed a new commenting system on our blog. I just thought I'd follow up with a few tips.

1. You may log in to the commenting system using your Facebook, Google, Twitter, or various other accounts. Just click on the word "From" and you will see the different ways you can log in. Then choose the one (or ones) you want to use to log in.

2. If you choose, you may post a comment without logging in, as a "Guest." However, even when doing this, you can use your name by clicking on the word "Guest" and changing it to your name or nickname. This personalizes your comment.

3. If you click on the word "To," you will see that you can also share your comment on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites. This requires that you log in.

Logging in to post your comment has some advantages. For one, you can choose to receive replies to your comment via e-mail. Also, your comment will include a link to your profile on the system (or systems) that you used to log in (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)

Either way, we love to hear from you and look forward to reading your comments. So, comment away!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Friday night homework blues

TONIGHT I ESCAPED from the tether of my study room. I left a paper 3/4 finished on the screen, grabbed my bag, jumped in the car and drove off. I felt lonely and alone (my husband is involved in a city-wide festival all week-end). I needed some face time with strangers and friends alike.

After an Al Anon meeting (I attend those every now and then; they help), I headed over to a fund-raiser that was being held in honor of a friend of mine who died about a year ago. I knew his wife would be there and I have been waiting for the perfect time to hand-deliver the CaringBridge book I created for her almost a year ago. CaringBridge is a way to stay connected via the Internet when a loved one is sick.

It was the perfect time.

I think it might have been overwhelming just after her husband's death. But tonight, she has a year of grieving behind her and, while it still is hard for her to get "vertical" some days, she keeps putting one foot in front of the other. Her work to raise money for brain cancer research (her late husband died from the same cancer that recently claimed Ted Kennedy's life) is also giving her another reason to get out of bed each morning.

I hugged my friend and left the folk music venue where hundreds of people had put a couple bucks in a jar to raise funds. As I drove toward home, I felt a little less lonely and a lot more connected. I finished my paper in record time.

~Ms. T. J.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Smoke and mirrors

I SAT ON THE OTHER SIDE of the mirror, observing an interview between a counselor and a victim of sexual abuse. I was at a private center that provides a safe site for videotaping investigative interviews with kids who have been sexually or severely physically abused, or who have witnessed violence. My charge: to take notes for a case manager who couldn't leave the office to attend this forensic interview.

The volume on the computer was turned down so low I had difficulty hearing the young person's voice. The counselor's words were as clear as the ringing of a bell. Luckily she did a lot of echoing back to her young client. I found a volume control on the speaker and cranked it up as loud as it went. Still the child's words were mere mumblings.

I finally got up out of the chair I'd been sitting in -- in the tiny little room that held the video equipment and computer -- and sat down on the floor where I could both hear the counselor and read the child's lips. I didn't want to miss a thing.

After the family left, the counselor and I sat on a couch and discussed the case. I stayed at the center until 8 p.m. (I had arrived at 3:20 p.m.)

I am exhausted. And I feel honored to have been allowed to witness this process.

~Ms. T. J.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sitting at the kids' table

I AM TRYING TO IMAGINE what it might be like to be six years old. For it to be the second day of school. All at once, (I'm imagining) my teacher takes my hand and leads me to the school counselor's office. I walk into an unfamiliar room and there are two adult women whom I have never seen before. They are very kind and they start asking me questions. Questions about my mom, and dad, and sisters, and brothers.

Today I was one of those adult women who sat (at a tiny table in a tiny chair) waiting for a six-year-old child who had never laid eyes on me before. I tried to be loving and kind as we asked her many questions. I tried to remember that we were helping her, protecting her.

I pray that I will always be -- above all else --loving and kind with all the innocent, beautiful children into whose life I am placed.

~Ms. T. J.

My first client

I AM SO EXCITED. I was just given my first client at my field practicum. My research class requires that I follow a client (preferably in my field practicum) for the semester. I must develop a research tool and administer it weekly or twice weekly.

As I sat in a family/team meeting yesterday I was thinking about how much I would like to work with children. At the workday's end, my field instructor asked me if I would like to work with a child.

I am thrilled and look forward to the process.

~Ms. T. J.

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