Stepping into the world of Social Work
This is a summary of what is a typical day for me as a job coach. This positions serves developmentally disabled adults at their workplaces, the job coach serves as a supplemental trainer, advocate, and mentor to the clients/consumers. My roster of clients would typically be considered high functioning. Three of my clients are licensed drivers, and while all but two live with family by choice, most of them could live on their own with some level of support if they chose.
Their diagnoses vary between the different types and causes of mental retardation and autism, but my individualist approach generally does not require me to know what some doctor decided 30 years ago. What is important to me is if the person is doing their job to their employer’s standards, and what I can do to help fix any problems. Down Syndrome, autism, Asperger Syndrome, whatever specific reason someone might be receiving my services is less important than where the individual is right now in his/her training and support needs.
8:00 – arrive at first site, a home improvement chain store. I briefly visit HR manager’s office to say hello. She has been designated my primary contact at this site, though I also touch base with my clients’ direct supervisors as often as possible. I work with three people at this site but will only be officially visiting one today, as the others are not working.
My client works in Garden, I find her watering plants outside. We exchange a few pleasantries about the past few nights TV offerings. I double-check a few things I’ve been asked to monitor, everything is great. We chat a little further about her work and a minor matter she would like to discuss with her manager. That particular individual is clearly extremely busy this morning, so I suggest postponing that discussion for a later date.
When the consumer takes a break at 9AM, I sit down nearby to do a little of my paperwork. I check that I wrote notes for the previous days visits, adding a sentence or two to a few of them. I also log on to the company computer system as each of my clients to get their schedules for the week after next. I fiddle a bit with the written schedule I’m preparing for my visits the following week, still incomplete until I get the schedule for a client I will be seeing at the end of the day.
I spend some time slowly walking around the garden section some distance from my client. As always, her work is excellent. I observe her helping a customer find what they want and return to her watering.
I visit the HR office one more time to say goodbye and obtain a signature verifying that morning’s visit. I head over to my client to say goodbye and let her know when I will see her again.
10:00 – drive to next site. (Yes, I get paid for drive time and mileage)
This happens to be another site of the same home improvement chain I just visited. I have three clients here as well, and will be spending time with each of them.
10:30 – again, a brief visit to the HR director’s office. I confirm with her that I still have the blank annual reviews she asked me to help each client fill out (this company has the employee state their opinion of their performance on each area in writing, then the manager completes the form with his/her opinion, with an eval meeting afterwards).
I locate all of the clients in their various departments, say hello, and let them know my plan. I bring one of them back to a private room with me, as he indicates it is a relatively good time for him. We spend about half an hour going over the eval. “Work ethic and dependability is being there every day on time, taking breaks and lunch at the right time, and working hard for the whole shift. Do you think you exceed standards, meet standards, or not? Write a couple of sentences why you chose that. I’ll spell that word for you…” I slip in a few reminders of the issues he and I have been asked to work on, but ensure that the answers on the form are his own, not mine.
I finish with that client and send him back to clearing the lot of shopping carts. I spend some time observing another client in Garden, where he is sweeping up. I joke with him a bit and remind him gently about the matters I’ve been asked to work on with him. I tell him I’ll be going to lunch shortly, and need him to find me to do his review when he is done with his own lunch.
I leave the store to get some lunch. I choose fast food, and spend most of my lunch reading a novel on my Kindle Fire.
I station myself in the training room after my lunch until my client clocks back in, checking schedules on the computer and adding a note or two to various forms for a few minutes. He comes in right on time and we go through the same process as before, though this client prefers that I do the writing. This particular client is an immigrant from south Asia, and his English is somewhat limited.
We finish up, the client goes back to his work in garden and I go look for the third client. He is busy stocking in the Seasonal section, so I spend some time with him chatting and observing until he has reached the point he can come and go through the same process as the other two.
In this case, it’s a little more challenging to get privacy, as managers are gathering in the training room for an afternoon meeting, and the other two private rooms in the general area are also in use. The HR manager figures it out for us, though – she has my client bring a light table into a network server room nearby.
When we’re done, it’s time for his lunch, and very near the end of my visit, so I spend a few minutes wrapping up my visit with managers, saying goodbye to the clients, and writing a few sentences as notes for each client.
2:30 – drive to last site
I then drive to my last site for the day, a supermarket, where my client is a courtesy clerk. She is doing a fantastic job overall, so much so that she doesn’t really want me there. In fact, most of the time I get the silent treatment. She’s busy bagging when I get there, so I just say hello and head to the back room to get her schedule for the next week. I come back out and observe her from a distance, to avoid distracting her or confusing customers.
I try to engage her in a little bit of conversation when she’s not too busy. She tells me she is unhappy with the schedule she has received. I talk to her about why she doesn’t like it, and suggest that we talk with the manager who writes the schedule so he is aware of her preferences. She mentions a point in the past where she had apparently already done this, and names an individual I do not know (I’m not sure if it’s a previous job coach or job developer from my agency, or a case manager from one of our funding agencies). She seems rather put out that I don’t know this person.
I remind her that scheduling preferences like that can get lost or forgotten over time, and confirm with a lead cashier that I had the right manager in mind to discuss the matter with. The client then says “never mind” and appears very annoyed with me. I’m not sure if it’s because I don’t know who the person is she referred to earlier, that I’m not equally outraged that her preferences have been forgotten, or that I’m expecting her to be part of the process (that I don’t just talk to the manager without her).
Particularly at her level of competence, it is very important that I do everything I can to facilitate her independence on these matters. If I just slip upstairs and get her schedule changed for her, that gives her and everyone else the wrong message. My role, in my opinion, is to model and instruct her in the best way of handling these things, encouraging her to handle them on her own when possible, rather than taking them on myself. I also remind myself that the schedule difference is fairly minor and not an absolute (such as if there would be no transportation home for her, or a conflict with some personal commitment).
The last few minutes, I find a place to sit down where I can still see the client bagging groceries, and complete my planned schedule for the next week and the last remaining notes, as well as my time sheet and mileage for the day. I get a final signature for this visit and say goodbye to the client and the managers.
4:30 – I head home to relax. 🙂