Stepping into the world of Social Work

Monthly Archives: June 2011


Today has been an insurance day.

Yesterday on my way home from work, I was rear ended rather severely in an accident that ended up involving at least 4 cars possibly more. My own car is clearly totaled; we had it towed to a convenient storage yard so the insurance company can get to it easily. The big problem for me is that while I was able to get pretty much all of my valuable property out of my car before it was towed away (Hubby came to the scene to help) I was not able to find my hearing aid, which had fallen out of my ear in the force of the accident. So I’ve been trying to get permission to get to my car and have the driver side door pried open to find it.

To complicate things, it appears that the person at fault in the accident may have given the police false insurance information. We were told she was covered by the same carrier I have, but they are telling me there is a “problem” and we will likely have to use the uninsured aspects of our policy in order to recoup this loss. Among other things, that means no rental car.

I’m trying to remind myself that the really important issue here is that I was not seriously insured. Bumped and bruised, achy and sore, but nothing broken or seriously hurt.

It was also nice to see how kind the bystanders and witnesses were, and the general politeness of those involved. A bystander bought me a bottle of water, and there was no yelling, no cursing, even with all of the inconvenience.

Beyond that, I also had to call my medical insurance company to discuss details of a bill for my cataract surgery (unfortunately, the bill was correct), and I learned that my ongoing battle to get activated on my vision insurance was finally won. Unfortunately, the solution they suggested for me to get reimbursed will not work, so we’re going to try another solution. 🙂

I think I’ve had enough of insurance companies for a while! But I know I won’t get a break. Not only will we have to go through the whole process with the car, but I’ll be changing insurance due to my new job and starting at USC.

Sheesh… can we please finally get single payer, pretty please?

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There’s not much going on for me on any front – MSW program starts in mid-August, my job is proceeding normally Since I’m in the 3 year program for my MSW, I won’t be doing a field placement until next year, so I don’t have that detail to arrange (unlike some of my classmates). So what do I do – borrow trouble!

Since I’ve got the time, I’ve been looking far more carefully at the materials available on the USC Social Work department website. There’s a wealth of information there that I’m a little embarrassed that I didn’t look at before applying. But… maybe that’s a good thing because it might have scared me away.

What I’ve been looking at most recently is the documentation for the field placements. Not only does it look scary just to look at all the process forms I’ll be filling out, but the materials intended for the agencies actually state outright that new interns are likely to go through a pretty predictable set of emotions as they gain competence. Good to know I won’t be the only one feeling scared, nervous, and self conscious.

I did note that there was mention of tape recording (I assume when the intern is conducting therapy) and that troubles me. I cannot stand the sound of my voice on tape! I guess I’ll deal with that when the time comes, though.

I have to admit, it has been great, over the past week or so, to connect via Facebook with my future classmates. I may not get to know many of them very well, or even at all, but having that virtual connection will be great.

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MSW summer welcome

I spent the morning at a summer welcome event for new MSW students at USC, and enjoyed myself quite a bit.

I was very impressed with the caliber of my classmates, and while I only met one faculty member I have the feeling I’ll be even more impressed with them.

We started off with a short talk from the person in charge of admissions, and if I understood her correctly they accepted only about 1/3 of the 1200 applicants they received. They also introduced about half of the student groups that represent specific student interests and groups.

Then we broke into smaller assigned groups for half an hour, sharing who we were, etc. Interestingly, they had us play “I never…” which can be a rather revealing game but we played safe things like “I’ve never eaten sushi.”

After that, we met a few more of the student groups and were offered tours of the campus (which I didn’t bother, I didn’t feel up to the walk.) Then those of us who would be at alternate sites got the chance to meet with our sites (in my case, Skirball). They gave us a few hints about what things were like there (very relaxed, which is good).

I’m becoming increasingly sure that this will not be an easy journey, but it will certainly be a meaningful one!

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Observations after my first full week

I just finished my first full week with my new employer, and I have to admit it has been a mixed bag.

The positive:

  • I’ve been assigned a very nice group of clients to support, some of whom are doing very well at their job and are well-integrated into their workplaces. Most of them welcome my visits, so long as I don’t step on their toes.
  • The clients are at only 3 locations – three employers who happened to have hired more than one of our clients. This makes things easy for me in terms of scheduling. Two of the locations are in areas of the Valley I’m not so familiar with, but I can cope with that.
  • The employers are all great to my clients and seem to appreciate my support.
  • I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent being trained by the job developer (who was filling in as a coach until they hired more coaches). He’s a decent fellow who really cares about the clients.
  • The hours my clients work seem to make a nice Monday-Friday schedule for me, something I have never had happen to me before!

The troubling:

  • As was true of my previous employer, I actually have clients who make more money than I do per hour! While I admit these folks have been at their job for years, it’s a crime that a professional position (job coaching typically requires experience or a BA) pays so little. Sadly, I’ve even seen agencies hire administrative assistants and receptionists for more than they pay their direct support staff!
  • It appears as if my current agency has had some problems in the past with coaches who were acting improperly in terms of reporting working/coaching hours. As I’ve dealt with this in the past at a previous employer, I know it happens. Unfortunately, to combat it and increase accountability, some supervisors add things to the paperwork that really aren’t effective, but look good. I’m starting to see some things that were added to paperwork in the name of “accountability” that will get on my nerves after a while.
  • My direct supervisor is unfortunately away for an unspecified period of time for a family emergency. This might be unavoidable, but it doesn’t help…

All in all, my gut tells me that this is exactly what I wanted it to be – a job I can simply “deal with” for a year or a year and a half.

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A little politics…. revolving around social justice

I just read the news report regarding the new law in Alabama regarding illegal immigrants.

While I’d like to ensure that immigrants go through the proper process in order to get jobs here, there’s just too much ridiculousness in this.

One feature I’m fine with – requiring employers to use a federal database in hiring. I have no problem with that and believe the primary target of any immigration law should indeed be employers.  I also support law enforcement verifying the immigration status of suspects when they are booked and processed into the system, just as they check whether there are other legal issues pending surrounding this individual (wants/warrants, etc.). Not on the street just because the officer wanted to harass someone… but as a part of the booking procedure with someone who is actually being arrested.

But making schools document the status of their students is flat out wrong. Schools and their staff are not enforcement agencies for federal or state law. If they have to do this, who’s next – doctors and emergency rooms?

Doing things like this simply creates a permanent underground slave class of workers who cannot work for legitimate jobs, cannot send their children to school and cannot get medical care except in extreme emergencies. Providing education, at the very least, gives the next generation a chance to find their niche in society.

I know many would say, “well, why don’t they just ‘go home’ where they belong and can get jobs legally? Maybe some should. But many cannot. And a large number have been here long enough that we should accept that they are home, they just took the wrong path to get here.

The other thing I thought was crazy was making it illegal to “knowingly” give a ride to an illegal alien. I suspect they are targeting those who pick up day laborers from where they congregate. But if I were to do that (and I wouldn’t) I wouldn’t ask their status, so I wouldn’t know it.

One problem behind all of this immigration law (and the one in Arizona some time back) is that there is an assumption that someone from another country is breaking the law simply by breathing American air. While I see many many regulations and hoops to jump through in order to work in the US, it appears to be very easy to VISIT. Living in Los Angeles, the example of tourism comes to mind the quickest, but another might be family visits. Disneyland and the Grand Canyon aren’t just attractive to Americans, and many Americans have family that are citizens of other countries. I cannot imagine living in a country with laws so strict that someone’s family can’t come “see the new baby” just because they happen to live in Costa Rica or France. These folks, while visiting Disneyland or the new baby, might end up leaving the house or hotel without their “papers.” Do you really want to live in the kind of country where that is a worry?

In my searches, I couldn’t find anything that indicates it is a crime simply to be here in the US without some sort of visa or green card.  Illegal entry is a crime, but that can’t be assumed. Overstaying legitimate visas, as an example, would indicate legal entry but the time span had lapsed. I am certain that far more undocumented residents came over through fairly legal means than the stereotype of sneaking through the desert or hiding in RVs through the border checkpoints. And how could you prove how any particular individual got across the border 10 years ago?

Last but not least, the ridiculous claim by Sen. Scott Beason that “This will put thousands of Alabamians back in the work force.” How? Perhaps a few folks who try for legitimate jobs will get weeded out. But thousands? Evidence please….. not just pandering to those who don’t like the idea of sharing our country.

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What is social justice?

One of the terms that came up frequently in the information on the social work programs I applied to is “social justice.” Since the concept will continue to come up repeatedly in my social worker education, I believe I need to spend some time thinking about the concept and where my own personal definition might differ from others.

At University of Southern California School of Social Work, the mission statement includes:

The mission of the USC School of Social Work is to improve the well-being of vulnerable individuals and communities, advance social and economic justice, and eradicate pressing societal problems in complex and culturally diverse urban environments throughout Southern California, the nation and the world. Our mission is achieved through value-driven, scholarly and creative social work education, research, and professional leadership.

From the NASW:

Beneath this practicality lies a strong value system that can be summarized in two words: social justice. Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities. Social workers aim to open the doors of access and opportunity for everyone, particularly those in greatest need.

So according to my (future) fellow social workers, social justice is the goal of equal rights and opportunities. Sounds good to me!

But to some (such as Glenn Beck)  this sounds too .. um… communist. They honestly believe that the phrase social justice is code for redistribution of wealth and all those nasty taxes and programs they don’t like.

There may also be some on the other end of the spectrum who believe that social justice (and our country) should indeed go so far as to actually “redistribute wealth,”  but what about the rest of us?

I note that in the NASW definition, rights and opportunities are expected to be equal, not necessarily outcomes. This is important. While I had the opportunity to attend public schools through 12th grade without tuition, and state funded colleges and universities after that, the outcome would depend on what I did with those opportunities.

Political opportunities are the same way. I can run for office and vote, but whether I win or my candidate wins is up to what happens in the polls.

Economic opportunities are a bit harder, as we all know it takes money to make money.  I think this is where the Beck crowd starts getting nervous. But I think so long as we’ve equalized educational and political opportunities, economic opportunities might work themselves out.

I’m sure there is a lot of room to discuss HOW to achieve these ends, but I would hope the vast majority of my fellow Americans would agree with the ideals.

I also believe that perfect social justice may not be something we will ever see. While I’d like to believe that my neighbors have the same opportunities as I do, the truth is that they almost certainly have their own sets of advantages and disadvantages. I have a middle class background, which provided me with a certain level of resources to start adult life (and admittedly, occasional assistance from parents even as an adult). There is nothing government can do to compensate my neighbor from a less affluent background for what I received and they didn’t or to compensate me for not being born a Kennedy, Gates, or Walton.

So if it’s an impossible dream, what can a social worker do?

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Too much like social workers?

An interesting comment my new boss has made at least twice in my presence is that sometimes job coaches try to do “too much social work.”

The context was the example of the disabled employee who neglects personal hygiene to the point where it jeopardizes his job. Examples would be not showering, not shaving, dirty clothes, and other such matters. My boss is of the opinion (And I agree with him to an extent)  that the proper role of the job coach is to allow the employer’s ordinary policies and procedures to take effect – verbal and written warnings, being sent home, suspension and termination. I got the impression that he seemed to disapprove of job coaches who did anything more than encourage the employer to follow their normal procedures with the coach verbally reinforcing with the client what might happen.

I will agree that the employer can and should follow the normal procedures. Obviously, there are very good reasons to treat the disabled employee in the same fashion as everyone else, and the procedures are fair enough that they should apply to our clients as well. I have had employers look to me for permission to take the next step in their policies, and I have always supported the employer in this regard. Typically the employer will give a disabled employee an extra warning or two to ensure there has not been a miscommunication and to allow for any extra time a disabled client might need to improve.  In many cases, this is all that is needed.

However, I also believe the purpose of a job coach is to supplement the training and supervision the employer provides. For example, while a non-disabled 18 year old would be expected to pick up the job of courtesy clerk (including hygiene/clothing standards) with the training and supervision the supermarket gives, the coach is there for the disabled employee to provide the extra training and guidance the employer wouldn’t have time for. So if a hygiene or appearance issue comes up, it does seem appropriate to me for the coach to have a discussion with the client about how they can improve the situation.

Obviously, all you need to say about showers, shaving, and deodorant is “every day.” But if clothes aren’t clean, perhaps the person might need some advice and advocacy on that issue. Perhaps the employer can provide more uniform shirts.  Perhaps the client simply needs to be reminded to set more time aside for laundry. If they are receiving services in their home, perhaps coordination with that staff might improve the situation (purchasing more clothes or doing laundry better, for example). Perhaps there is an interpersonal situation at home that is interfering and their disability prevents them from seeing it.

Too much like social work? Maybe. But that’s part of what I’m there for!

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First few days at new employer

I have now been working for my new employer 3 days, and I think it’ll work out OK.

I’ve been given a roster of 9 clients to see, with the good news being that they are only at 3 different locations! Not a lot of driving if I can plan it correctly.

The paperwork is slightly different from my previous employer, but only trivially so. Timesheets are timesheets, after all, and pretty much every agency that serves the disabled uses the same or similar forms to collect and report billing information. Agencies that are are vendors to the same regional centers and divisions of department of rehab will also typically end up using very similar forms to collect case notes and performance/behavior/progress documentation.

This morning was mostly spent at a home improvement store trying to figure out their computer training system. My clients that work there are subject to the same safety, ethics, etc. training requirements as their non-disabled co-workers, but they can sometimes find the test format on the computer a bit frightening. So job coaches typically give whatever level of assistance the client requires, from simply helping them get into the program and then taking a back seat to reading the material to them and helping them through the quiz at the end.

In this case, it was TOUGH! The job developer for my agency was there (training me) and both of us had problems getting through a particular test. The problem, in our opinion, was that there were in a couple of cases 2 answers that were nearly correct and it was a challenge to catch whatever was the difference. [sigh]

In other news, my eye is doing very well, I was instructed to stop using the antibiotic eye drops (but continue using the others) and given an appointment where I’ll finally get new glasses that go with this improved eye. I’m looking forward to that immensely!

Not much going on for the grad school front. There’s a welcome reception in a couple of weeks that I will certainly go to. It appears to be a Saturday brunch, which sounds great.

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What’s a job coach?

I start a job as a Job Coach tomorrow. This is a job I held for another employer for more than 5 years, so I don’t expect too many surprises. I won’t identify my new employer (or my former employers)  for the privacy of my clients, and will be very careful about what I say about work in the future.

Since it isn’t a job everyone knows about, I figured I’d post a bit about the job itself. Job coaching is a direct support position serving adults with disabilities, most often developmental disabilities, but sometimes others (I’ve coached visually impaired adults with no other disability, and have also seen my share of those with mental health diagnoses). The primary purpose of the job is to keep the client working at his or her highest,most independent level.

The typical work of a job coach involves visiting a roster of clients/participants/consumers at their work sites, checking in about how they’re doing with everyone concerned (particularly the manager and/or designated co-workers) and observing the client working for a while and making suggestions that come up.

Here in California, the Department of Rehabilitation funds the first part of the client’s job coaching (the first few months) and the regional center for developmental disabilities takes over after that. Typically, coaching is provided to the client for 100% of their working hours the first month, then decreasing the next few months until the client is considered “stable.” So the coach could be spending as little as one hour at a site, to as much as the whole shift of 8 hours. The idea, at least in my opinion, is to supplement the employer’s training and supervision to ensure the client’s success.

Typically those who are served in such a fashion are higher functioning individuals who do not need close supervision, so the coach isn’t obligated to be right at the person’s elbow the entire time, can take breaks and lunch away from the client, etc. I’ve had a few who needed a lot of help their first few days (to the point where I didn’t even feel I could slip away to use the ladies room!) but those are the exceptions rather than the rule.

The most common positions found for developmentally disabled adults are in retail and food service. I’ve had many many clients who were cart attendants and courtesy clerks, held janitorial positions, and did light office work.

There can be a lot of driving, a lot of sitting and observing (particularly at the stage where the client is doing very well) and the opportunity to meet a lot of different people and see a lot of different jobs.

More tomorrow….

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