Friday, June 29, 2012

"Foster Friday" Funnies - Caseworker Speak 101

The Social Work Dictionary...

It actually exists!!!

Granted, this particular publication is probably a legitimate professional reference book for many in the field, but having had numerous convoluted conversations with social workers over my past 3 1/2 years of fostering, I'm beginning to suspect there is a "secret" book out there that caseworkers reference...  A book that teaches social workers how to embellish the truth by taking what actually is and spinning it to suit their needs.

While I have yet to locate an actual copy of said manual, I am fairly certain I can guess what might be included.  For this week's "Foster Friday," I will pass on what I suspect is included in the "caseworker speak" manual to all of you.  :-)

Caseworker Speak 101
Introduction -
As professionals in an extremely stressful industry, we often find ourselves overwhelmed and exhausted.  We suffer burnout at a high rate, and turnover in our industry is at an all-time high.  We must do our best to manage our high-pressure jobs by finding ways to alleviate the untold stresses that are thrust upon us.  We must create and live by our own unique rules, and not be tied down to society's ideals.  This manual will assist you when searching for responses to those pesky questions we often receive from foster parents, birth parents, CASA workers, attorneys, judges, and other professionals and interested parties involved in your current caseloads.

Chapter One:  Turning Back the Clock - Defining "Time" in Foster/Adopt Land

People new to Foster/Adopt Land have certain expectations when it comes to time.  They expect timely responses to emails, phone calls returned within hours, and progress regarding their children's cases.  It is our job as social workers to "school them" on the realities of "time" when it comes to foster care.  Time and deadlines are all relative to foster care caseworkers.  More of a suggestion really, and something that can be easily manipulated to fit our needs...

Fun and exciting ways to choose deadlines or answers to direct questions regarding how long something will take are:
  • Throw a dart at a wall calendar.  No worries on whether or not you actually follow through.  Simply providing an answer will get them off your back for the time being.
  • Change your response multiple times within the same conversation, and then become indignant when the other party fails to meet your deadline or questions why you didn't meet your own deadline.
  • Give a date that falls in the past, and then be certain to penalize them for not turning in their paperwork on time.
Remember that your time is more important than anyone else's.  Feel free to schedule a home visit for 9:00am, but arrive at 10:40.  They should know that you don't live by the clock, and be flexible.  Don't do anything to make progress on your children's cases until the day before court.  Then hound everyone incessantly because you need information and paperwork by 3:00pm.  That deadline is a must, and anyone not adhering to it shall be punished.  When you don't get your own reports written before the hearing, don't worry about it.  It's foster care...  The judge will always grant an extension.  Your time is what is important.  It is up to everyone else to get used to that.

Chapter Two:  "My Dog Ate My Homework" - Handy Excuses for Your Inability to Do Your Job 

Everyone knows that caseworkers are some of the most overworked, over-stressed, and underpaid workers around.  They should understand this and cut us some slack, but when you haven't made any progress on a case in three months and everyone starts ganging up on you, feel free to use any of the following excuses:
  • "We're short-staffed right now." - No one is going to argue with that.  If you go on to tell them how you are working 23 1/2 hours a day, they'll start to feel sorry for you and might even bring you cookies and a Diet Coke.
  • "We're going to have to staff that." - Use this when you want them to leave you alone for several weeks.  Everyone knows how long it takes to get all of the key players together for a staffing (especially when you're short-staffed!), and they can't argue with the fact that you need to get approval before allowing something.
  • Blame it on someone else. - You can't go wrong with that one!  It's not your fault.  It's theirs!

Chapter Three:  "It Should Only Take Two Weeks" - Standard Responses to FAQs 

In this field, we receive many questions from people involved in the children's cases.  Generally, these questions tend to be the same for every case.  In order to prevent mass confusion and to keep expectations low, we encourage caseworkers to utilize the following responses to these Frequently Asked Questions:

Q:  "How long will it take?"
A:  As a general rule of thumb, your standard response to any question regarding how long a task will take should be "two weeks."  Or, simply refer to Chapter One.  It really doesn't matter what answer you provide anyway.  Your time is your time.  They'll have to take what they can get, when they can get.

Q:  "Can we...?"
A:  If the question involves a foster child (ex. get them a haircut, take them on vacation, etc.), just say "the parents said no," regardless of whether or not they actually did.  It goes into the "Blame It On Someone Else" category, and will take the heat off of you.

Chapter Four:  "Little Timmy Has Excellent Leadership Skills" - Helpful Synonyms So As Not to Frighten Away Potential Foster/Adoptive Parents 
(But it COULD be in "Caseworker Speak")

One of the most important duties you will have as a caseworker is that of locating suitable foster homes for children.  Many times, some of these children can have behaviors that make them difficult to place if you are completely open with potential foster parents.  The following is a handy list of synonyms for those common difficult behavior types:

What You Say:  "Little Timmy has excellent leadership skills."
When What You Really Mean Is:  "Little Timmy is overbearing, domineering, and bossy as all heck!"

What You Say:  "Jenny is extremely inquisitive and intelligent."
When What You Really Mean Is:  "RUN!!!  TURN AROUND AND DON'T LOOK BACK!!!  Jenny is one smart kid who likes to conduct her own science experiments with matches, bleach, and power tools."

What You Say:  "Laura is an active, athletic ball of energy who is constantly on the move."
When What You Really Mean Is:  "Laura needs Ritalin.  Desperately."

What You Say:  "Michael loves expressing himself through art."
When What You Really Mean Is:  "Michael smears his own poop on walls when he's mad."

The most important thing to remember is that even the most undesirable qualities can be portrayed in a beautiful light.  You're not lying when you say that "Johnny is a talented storyteller."  He is!  That kid can lie his way out of anything!  It's all about the synonyms!

Chapter Five:  Flattery Will Get You Everywhere! 

Occasionally, our play on words, odd perception of time, and ability to embellish the truth end up frustrating the people we must interact with on a regular basis.  Watch carefully for signs of impending explosions on their parts.  Avoiding confrontations and future strife can usually be headed off at the pass if you simply remember that flattery will get you everywhere!
  • "You are the best foster parent I've ever worked with!" - Being a foster parent is an endless, thankless job, so complimenting them on a job well done will usually go a long way in getting them off your back.
  • "You're so good at documentation!" - Some foster parents will nearly do your job for you if you compliment them on their organizational and documentation skills!  Upcoming hearing?  No problem!  Simply compliment a motivated foster parent on their skills and copy word for word any correspondence that is relevant to your case.  The judge will be super-impressed with your detailed analysis, and the foster parent will be pleased to know their words are being heard (even if they're passed of as your own).
  • "I'm sorry I haven't returned any of your phone calls over the past three weeks, but you're one of the few people who I never have to worry about.  I know you can handle anything!  You should be worried if I do call." 

Conclusion - Your words are powerful tools.  The key to success as a caseworker in Foster/Adopt Land is to choose those words carefully in a way that will benefit you to the fullest.  Keep this manual in a safe, secret hiding place and tell no one of its existance.  They won't know what hit them! 

(At least, that is what I imagine is in the Caseworker Speak 101 manual... ;-)


Carrie said...


The Campbell's Journey said...

Seriously....holy cow, you must have tapped into my phone line and bugged my house. Either that or this manual truly does exist :). Thanks for putting a little humor into our crazy life we live!

CherubMamma said...

I second what The Campbell's Journey had to say!!!

And as for Chapter 5 -- is it a bad thing when I've heard each and every one of those things personally?!

Diane said...

Very, very cute!

Addition to Chapter 3:
Q: Why...?
A: "It's policy; I don't have any latitude to change..." whether or not anything remotely close is even listed in a policy manual! Besides, no one really knows what is really in the current policies.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Definitely in my top favorite blog posts. So so true.

Tammy said...

I have personally experienced EACH of these scenarios.

Just sad...and hilarious!

Mitzy said...

You are TOO funny!

NotACabaret said...

"He's adventurous!" (He steals cars.)

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