Archive for the 'social services' Category

Forced visitation

June 8, 2014

Years ago we encountered this notion among social workers charged with the care and protection of children:  if one had molested another, the social workers might still insist on visitation between the perpetrator and victim, if the workers had any reason to believe the children might be biologically related, even if the victim and their parents did not want the contact.  It was an eye-opener for me, the idea of forced social intercourse.

There’s another context in which I’ve seen this:  someone who insists on contact with another even though it’s pretty clear to the other that the person who wants the contact doesn’t like them;  why would I want to have social intercourse with someone who doesn’t like me?  I wouldn’t.  That situation I can simply leave behind and move on.  What makes it tricky, in my experience, is when the other person insists that they like you when they clearly don’t.  Then it’s more difficult, especially because when this happens, it seems to happen with a person who is so disconnected from their true self that they may not even perceive that they don’t like the other person.  And if they’re structured within themselves in a way that we commonly label as narcissistic, they may even see the other person as not liking them instead.

It’s tough, because people who are incapable of treating others reasonably may themselves incur great hurt from the responses they get from the people they unreasonably treat.

In any event, in these cases, I react to my sense from the behavior and underlying self, not the person’s words, about whether they like me, and I don’t want forced social intercourse in those contexts either.  Whether the person doesn’t like me because they feel intimidated by me or because they see me as intolerable competition or they just don’t happen to like the person I happen to be, or for any other reason, I don’t want an interaction that is predicated on pretending that something is the case when it isn’t.

In the context of social intercourse with people who claim to but don’t actually like me, they are usually wanting something from me (and too much from me, as it turns out), whether or not they are aware of it, and what comes across to me is that I am being asked to enter into their distorted view in order for them to draw a benefit to themselves from me, at my expense.  In a word, as my younger son puts it, they are needy, and they want me to meet their extremely large needs.  And the fact of the matter is that I can’t, whether or not I want to try, and I would harm myself if I did what they want.  And I’ve learned that by having tried.


Perilous adolescence

September 1, 2013

I met a social worker at Dana Farber years ago who had adolescent sons.  And he shared that he thought parents’ task is, at least in part, sort of like damage control until the kids emerge from this period of development, so that the kids will have as many options as possible.

I am thinking about humanity in general this way, as we try to deal with issues like climate change and chemical weapons use.

I think it will be a while until there is a critical mass of people who look at life in a more helpful way than most of us currently do.  I think where religious leaders often go wrong is assuming there is a shortcut from here to there.  A lot of spiritual development is rooted in the experience of life with an open mind and an open heart.  Hiring a substitute or avoiding the experiences or trying to have them vicariously through learning about them as ideas just keeps us stuck in earlier stages.  I see (over-)intellectualizing as an excuse, something that masks a much more profound wound that needs healing.

Who’s raising the child

April 17, 2013

With the current Supreme Court case about who should raise a child of an Indian father in the news, I was thinking of other cases (some legal cases, some only social worker cases) I’ve known about that seem to fit a similar pattern.  I don’t know all the facts to all the cases, including this one, but I am curious about whether people are taking into account that as an emotional matter, there is a difference for some people between having the biological mother of their child raise the child, or even their extended family, and placing the child with “strangers.” I would say that if and when a mother decides to place a child for adoption, the parental rights of the biological father are revisited and he either consents to the adoption and relinquishes his rights anew, or he takes responsibility for the child’s care in some way.

And there is a difference between asking a father about terminating his parental rights in the context of asking for financial support from him and asking him as a general matter whether he wishes to sever his ties to the child.  We can have laws that predicate parental rights on certain kinds of behavior, but this will not change emotional structures — a man may flee from financial responsibility without changing his sense of connection with his offspring.  We can disapprove of this til the cows come home, but not dealing with it realistically apparently produces fathers reappearing and inserting themselves into proceedings at inconvenient times.  Fathers know of cases in which by continuing their parental rights they end up with lots of (financial) burden and not the benefit of actual involvement in the child’s life — a new boyfriend of the mother, her mother, some other relative of hers may help her push him out of the picture, to use the system to curtail his rights, especially if she has more social resources to do this than he.  And I know of cases in which it seemed pretty clear that the biological mother had been a part of orchestrating a situation in which the father could disrupt an adoptive placement she had had second thoughts about.

I guess my thought is that to resolve these situations, we need changes in social working more than we need fine legal distinctions and interpretations by sophisticated jurists.

Red-tailed hawk in NJ

January 24, 2013

I was sitting in my parents’ dining room the other day, staring out a picture window at the woods behind their house while answering questions for a social worker helping with their care, and I see a large, robust, cream color breasted bird sitting in a nearby tree, and it was indeed a Red-tailed hawk.  I never saw one before in my parents’ neighborhood, and my mother said neither had she (and they’ve lived there since before I was born).  The hawk swooped down out of the tree, but I didn’t see what it did, because my view was blocked and I didn’t want to alarm the social worker by craning my neck.  I found its presence reassuring, though.  Not so much the bloody and disemboweled deer carcass on Rte. 84 on my trip back today, if we’re going to get into signs and omens and reading entrails.

Martin Guggenheim

April 24, 2012

I came across this interview with Martin Guggenheim (a professor of clinical law at NYU School of Law), I’m not sure from when, but I really liked what he said, enough to persuade me to go hear him the day after tomorrow at Children’s Hospital in Boston (well, at least I hope to hear him — I don’t have great recollections of last year’s lecture in the same auditorium, but this year I may get a front-row seat).  The lecture is called “A Call for Child Welfare Reform,” but what persuaded me to go was seeing in his responses in the interview that he has a realistic sense of what goes on on the ground in social services with families and has developed wise and measured policy ideas in response.  The lecture is free and open to the public.

Science and social science

October 9, 2011

I read the op-ed piece “The Universe, Dark Energy and Us,” by Robert P. Kirshner, in the NYTimes the other day, in print, but I’ll look for it on line in a moment.  I found myself both glad about the discoveries it talks about and frustrated, but it has helped me clarify for me why I often have a mixed or negative reaction to discoveries in the sciences and social sciences, or even in philosophy.  It’s what comes across as a dearth of love.

I think we each have our own unique part to play and that we all have a part (I like the way it’s put here), so if we use different approaches and techniques to understanding the same phenomena, that should be fine.  But I read this stuff, whether it’s “discoveries” of things known to others but now they’ve got the imprimatur of the university and the endorsement and appropriation of individuals elevated and accepted for their combination of intellectual and certain social skills, and I recoil.  So, I have been looking to see if I can put my finger on what my negative reaction is to.  I start with, “Well, so what if aspects of their context and details of their understanding I find are at odds with my own?”  But it isn’t that, it’s a certain kind of coldness and callousness that comes across to me in their techniques as well as in their interpretations and understandings.  I realized recently that, not just to me but to others involved, this is a difference that makes a difference.   Apprehension through the intellect tends to be done without much love, and the our world needs the love as well as the understanding — it’s like the difference between having sex and making love, and at its extreme can even resemble rape.

So, even if scientists and social scientists don’t acknowledge other ways people have already understood what they’re trying to understand in their own language, maybe they could at least add a dimension of caring (and respect) about the “objects,” including those designated as inanimate, they are investigating.  Doing that might even facilitate their understandings, and it would certainly reduce the negative blowback their current approach often produces, whether they realize it or not.

Lessons and challenges

September 5, 2011

Somebody asked me why an elderly woman she knows, who repeatedly asks why she is still here (she can’t do much, her friends are all deceased, her husband died about twenty years ago, she used to be very independent, now she has to depend on other people …) is so difficult about accepting her need for help.  I told the person asking that it looks to me as if the elderly woman is faced with the challenge of learning to accept help, that that is the lesson she is working on, the challenge she is trying to master.  Maybe if the elderly woman saw it that way, she would achieve mastery of the challenge sooner and more easily, I don’t know.

But I think it is similar with our economy and politics.  Each person involved, as well as the groups, has a lesson and a challenge they are facing and being given an opportunity to master.  It might be “playing nicely with others,” it might be saying no to self-interest, it might be learning to impart knowledge to others without alienating them, it might be learning that people who look very different from us are actually not, it might be learning not to abuse power, it might be accepting others as having limitations.

What frustrates me is hearing how everybody needs to do something different, not ourselves.  In any interaction, we could be doing something different, and that change might help not only us but the bigger picture.

Social service survey

August 7, 2011

I’m not sure why this is on my mind, but about four or five years ago I found myself taking a phone survey for the folks at Big Brother Big Sister.  It must have been before my son was matched with a Big Brother, because that didn’t last long (instead of taking my son directly to the Aquarium as planned, he took my son back to his apartment and at one point threw him face-down on the bed and twisted his arm behind him, and we all agreed to go our separate ways within days of that), and I do remember my son spent a long time on a waiting list to be matched, so I probably got the survey call during that time.

So, I start answering the questions.  I think the survey was supposed to be about finding out more about their clientele, but at some point I remember saying to the young person on the phone with me who was reading out the questions, “I know you didn’t write these questions yourself, but do you realize that all the questions assume a certain level of dysfunction in the family?  They basically ask whether we are dysfunctional in this way, that way, or the other way.  I’m having a really negative reaction to that.”

The young intern suggested she have her supervisor, whom I think was a professor at a local university who was masterminding the project, call me — she would forward her my reaction.  And the supervisor did call, a few days later.

The supervisor/professor was interested in my reaction, and agreed that the questions did imply what I was inferring.  Then she said apologetically that they were the best set of validated questions she could find in the literature, and that was why she was using them.  I can’t remember whether she decided to rethink her use of them or in some way change the survey — I was too fascinated by the idea that this kind of research involved taking somebody else’s instrument off the shelf and using it.  I had assumed the questions had been tailored to some rudimentary understanding of the Big Brother clientele gleaned from applicants’ materials.

Maybe I’m thinking about this experience after hearing about Mayor Bloomberg’s initiative to help black and Latino youth.  Because I do remember that part of my reaction to that was to express the hope that the initiative would be open to finding out what the needs of the people they are trying to help actually are, in addition to trying to meet their needs as the administration perceives them.  I am concerned that their perception may not be wrong as much as not include the whole story or be in need of some tweaking.

In addition, I think maybe everyone who relies on the results of such studies’ being accurate should have a sense of how they are developed.  I truly don’t understand why someone undertaking a study isn’t obliged to develop their own reliable questionnaire for it.  My experience certainly changed my sense that  researchers were testing a hypothesis with an accurate instrument or, in the alternative, that they were looking into a situation in a more open-ended way without bias.  As it is, I now realize I don’t really understand what it is social science researchers think they are doing and whether their methods really are sufficient to meet these goals, whatever they are.

Taking care of depressed people

July 10, 2011

This post is prompted by the opinion piece in today’s NYTimesIn Defense of Antidepressants,” which got me thinking about some of those “issues most people don’t know about apparently until social science researchers decide they are interesting.”

We who have family members who are chronically depressed and whose depressions are only partly alleviated by medication, therapy, etc. are aware of the toll depression takes on the entire family.  What I would like to point out from down here in the trenches are a few things that I think might help.

1. Respite care.  People who take care of people with depression get burned out. Cf. recognized burn-out of family members who take care of people with dementia, cognitive impairments, autism.

2. Services for “urgencies.” What I mean by urgencies are situations short of emergencies-in-which-there-is-danger-to-self-or-others.  People may be out of control without being dangerous.  Mobile services, like the ones I believe MassHealth provides in their behavioral services for children, would be helpful.

3. In-home services. In-home services in which the worker(s) do more than talking about planning, or even drawing up plans, are needed — some families need more hands on deck, and very few social services actually provide people who come into the home and roll up their sleeves and help.  That role seems to be reserved for (untrained) family members.  Even with experience, detachment, and techniques, family members sometimes are insufficient to the tasks, whether because of exhaustion or lack of necessary numbers.

4. Telephone support.  My impression is that service providers have decided that support groups (in addition to individual counseling, perhaps) meet the need for support of people taking care of people with depression.  I think the people who can attend such groups are what we might call “the walking wounded,” and that there are lots more people who need support who don’t have the wherewithal (including the time) to get to and attend group meetings.  Moreover, many such groups only offer opportunities to vent, rather than a format that encourages sharing not only experience, but also techniques and strategies.  (I would add that not all techniques and strategies are workable for all people — some depend on resources some families don’t have, so some care about sharing ideas can be helpful.)  I’ve read that some therapists offer therapy by phone, I am aware there exist telephone helplines for some issues, I believe groups like Al-Anon offer phone and on-line meetings; I’d like to see more of these kinds of supports offered for people who take care of depressed people, including some that could be accessed during what I termed “urgencies” above.  Much of the work of care-taking is much more doable with just a little support, whether it’s logistical support or support that is less tangible.

Those are the first few things that come to my mind for what might help people who take care of depressed people.  I think some of the functions can be filled by volunteers, people who have “been there, done that,” but some amount of organizing is necessary, especially to facilitate communication (even phone lists of people in similar situations who would be willing to help out others when they can — I’ve seen rudimentary forms of this in connection with some kinds of support groups for other, related types of issues).  Maybe others have other ideas to contribute.