Author Archives: eampo

It’s the little things

One day last month I decided to complete a few evening home visits to try and catch clients who were only home after 5pm. I booked an agency car, confirmed the visits with foster parents, and mentally prepared myself to get home at 11pm yet again. And then everything went south- and fast.

A co-worker signed out the car I reserved and was expected to bring it back in time for my use but she called to tell me that she was in upstate New York and wouldn’t make it in time. I decided to take public transportation. Usually I try and take public transportation when possible for my visits (who wants to hunt down parking in NYC?) but I was doing late visits- one of which was in Yonkers- and desperately needed a car. These visits needed to get done somehow so I set out on foot, first two locations in the Bronx, and the last one in Yonkers.

I got lost. I walked around in circles and was clearly an outsider in the neighborhood. It was particularly cold, windy, pouring rain and to be honest I was getting ticked off. So I found myself in a small bodega, clothing soaked, and asking the owner for directions. He was very kind and repeated the directions to make sure I understood. Then I set out again but hit a wall- literally- where I was supposed to go straight. I looked around and saw a man with his headphones in, hooded sweatshirt on, walking quickly; did I mention that it was night?  I found myself loudly yelling EXCUSE ME until he stopped. He was also very kind, and showed me that I needed to climb a set of stairs to get past the wall and onto the street I needed. Now some people may have been initially intimidated, or even afraid, of stopping someone in an unfamiliar neighborhood in the evening, but I put my reservations aside and was helped by a friendly person.

After my first two visits, I waited for Metro North to take me to Yonkers. By this point it was nearly 6:30pm, bitter cold because of the rain, and very dark. The train arrived but on the wrong track and whizzed by me and two other passengers who were patiently waiting. At this point I nearly broke down; this job had me trekking all over New York City, arriving home at ridiculously late hours, and in areas where I sometimes questioned if I would be safe. Now it was getting late, my hands were freezing, and the freaking train just passed me although I was waiting for 30 minutes; man, I was frustrated! Just then, a young man began talking to me and shared in my frustration about missing the train. We chatted for a while and I explained that I needed to get off in Yonkers but had no way of getting to my client’s house. He searched on his phone and got me some Yonkers cab company phone numbers. He went even further and answered all of my questions: what other train lines I could take to get to Yonkers; how much the cab would probably cost; if staff would be working at the train station.

When I arrived in Yonkers I was picked up by a cabbie named Ramon who gave me his direct number so I could call him to come back and get me when my home visit was over. Ramon even gave me a discount and took some $ off my fare. On my way home to Jersey I thought of my day and how I was helped by so many different people. It was a pretty frustrating day on top of a frustrating week, but help from those strangers made me feel better. Sometimes it really is the little things that get you through when things seem to be falling apart.

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“If you can do this, you can do anything”

Hopelessness. Frustration. These are just some of the emotions I’ve felt since I began my work as a caseplanner. Perhaps it’s the reason I have neglected to post on the blog with the exception of my initial post: I’ve been hoping that with each passing day the feelings would also pass. To be blunt: it’s been rough. I have jumped right into casework with the knowledge I gained from training, a quick overview of my new caseload, and well-wishes from family and friends. I have done a little bit of everything: moving children from one placement to the next after the placement could not be preserved, mediating a family argument, spending too many hours at PATH (shelter intake), getting shredded in court, and having to explain to a child that I could not definitively tell them when they were going back home. As tough as these experiences have been, I’m grateful. I’ve learned much about myself, my resilience, and my determination. As one co-worker told me, “If you can do this, you can do anything”.

When a parent relapses although they’ve been doing so well and you’ve been rooting for them, how should you react? Or when a child begs you to take them home to their mother, how do you maintain composure? These are some of the situations I’ve found myself in. At times, it becomes emotionally draining: not only are you dealing with the stressors of families being (temporarily) torn, but there are also limited resources and high demands to mediate as well. At times, the caseworker can become “villainized”- the bad guy who took the children away, or the other bad guy who has not completed the 10 million (sometimes impractical) things an attorney has asked. Sometimes you wonder aloud if you’re even doing the right thing.

My unit co-workers have been my guides through these couple of months. Without their experience and advice, I would be so lost! The workplace is going through some changes, but one thing that remains constant is the willingness of my unit co-workers to help out when possible.

Although I’ve briefly discussed some of the challenges I face everyday, I have also had small victories and positive experiences. I have worked with parents who love their children deeply- and who are determined to overcome any obstacle to have their children in their care once more. Foster parents have gone to great lengths to ensure that their foster children are comfortable and connected with their biological families. Additionally, I have met service providers who are committed to reuniting families. I am hopeful that with time, I will gain more experience and learn how to cope with each new situation that arises.


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Self Awareness & Reflection

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the first week-and-half of training it’s that self awareness or as Barry likes to poignantly phrase it, “owning your stuff”, is actually integral to the success of caseworkers. We have discussed engagement, assessment, and active listening among other topics, yet somehow each lesson has the underlying theme of “owning your stuff”. One must acknowledge personal biases, discomfort, and beliefs before attempting to engage families and children. I’ve learned that simply being aware of yourself can positively change how you interact with others. For example if a caseworker is uncomfortable with discussing teenage pregnancy, this may translate into his/her work; before you know it, the caseworker is faced with speaking about the topic with a teenage client but cannot move forward because of their personal discomfort. During the training, it’s been a helpful reminder that we are there for the clients’ well-being and not our personal comfort levels.

Today we practiced engagement once again along with attempting to find out what motivates us all. We were asked to discuss (in groups of 3) a personal struggle and what motivates us to work to overcome it. In my opinion, the exercise was much more probing and uncomfortable than our previous exercises but I appreciated that I was forced out of my comfort zone. It created some vulnerability, which led to bonding. As always, the exercise proved to be useful because if I felt uncomfortable disclosing a personal struggle, I can only imagine how a parent or child must feel when disclosing this information to a caseworker he/she may not know so well. The exercise allowed me to understand the awesome responsibility caseworkers are entrusted with.

Overall it’s been a very positive experience thus far. I cannot begin to go into all of the topics we have already discussed; I feel like I am learning so much.

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