kepdavis

Stepping into the world of Social Work

Category Archives: Work

Ups and Downs

I’ve had an up and down week, with mostly ups at school and a roller coaster at work.

First, I’m very pleased with the grades I’m getting so far in my classes. I just got my Behavior midterm back – I was a little nervous because the midterm in the previous Behavior class was where I stumbled last term (if, of course, you can consider stumbling to be anything less than an A).  So I’m waiting for one other grade in that class (a much smaller assignment that involved an article critique) and will be working with my group on an assignment for the other class. I need to get started on an interview of a senior citizen, and the paper which will result from getting their life story.

In further school news, I’ll be meeting with my advisor regarding my internship placement next year in the middle of the week. I had quite a bit of paperwork to fill out, and also had to crop a couple of 2×2 photos for the purpose. I believe the meeting is to go over the paperwork and any special concerns I have regarding my placement.

At work, I’ve had some goods and bads. The unpleasant situation was a client who, after resisting every suggestion I was trying to make to help him work faster, decided he either wanted another coach or no more coaching. This would have been only mildly troubling, but my boss is one who makes things worse by immediately going for the jugular to try to figure out what I must have done wrong. I fully admit to being a fallible human being, but I also need my boss to understand that some issues are not necessarily caused by an error.

However, at the very next visit that day, I happened to receive copies of another client’s annual reviews by his employer – this year’s, which I just helped the client complete, and last year’s, a couple of months before I started with him. The difference is amazing! Obviously, the client deserves the real praise for making the improvement, but I have to believe that I must have had something to do with it, too.

I also attended a family meeting with the staff responsible for my father’s care. It looks like he is in good hands.

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Day in the life of a job coach

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. 🙂

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How is work?

I mostly intend this blog to be about my experiences joining the social work profession, but since my current job is related, I don’t imagine anyone will care if I talk about  my position as a job coach a bit occasionally.

Things have become quite tolerable at work, despite my concerns over the first few months. I do see some serious communication issues and disagreements with my boss, but they’re far less frequent than they were at first. At the beginning of December or January, I finally became eligible for sick time and holiday pay, so that should help a bit as regards the wallet.

I’ve had the feeling in many meetings with my boss that we were speaking two different languages – nothing seemed to “click.” I do notice that as time has gone on, my boss seems less interested in “retraining” me and a little more respectful of the experience I bring to the table.

I now have 9 clients with pretty much enough authorized hours between them to make up a full time week. For anyone just stopping by, I have two clients working at an eyeglass warehouse, 6 clients in various positions at two different locations of the same home improvement chain, and one courtesy clerk at a grocery store.

The courtesy clerk is my newest; I was just assigned her in December. She has had the job for a long time and is doing a great job. She hasn’t been all that welcoming to me, to the point where I thought she was giving me the silent treatment, but my last visit we had a good talk and she expressed herself well as to what she wants from me – just one visit a week and possibly help finding a new job. Seems as if she was very unhappy about being scheduled to work most or all of the recent holidays.

My two clients at the eyeglass warehouse are doing fine. My challenge for one of them, who inspects returned eyeglass frames for defects, is that I probably couldn’t manage to do his job. I would miss too many defects! So it’s hard for me to give him feedback on quality issues. I’m a bit more comfortable making recommendations on how he can improve his productivity, but he’s a bit more resistant to that, so one small step at a time. The other employee is doing so well but welcomes my company and mentoring on a friendly level as I walk with her while she picks orders.

My clients at the home improvement stores each have their issues, but most of them are doing fairly well. Most of them at least appreciate my visiting and checking in with them a couple of times a week.

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I have a professional identity!

I had noticed in my class syllabi and some of the textbooks that one of my objectives (or the school’s objectives for me) is to develop a professional identity. This means to “identify as a professional social worker and conduct oneself accordingly.” The many facets of this concept would include core values, the history of the profession, conduct, advocacy, and many other positive values.

I told myself that this would be something that developed over the next few years, particularly during my internship and field placements. Obviously, as I thought at the time, I can’t have a professional identity until I’ve actually engaged in some professional activities!

But over the last few weeks, I have learned I was wrong. I have developed somewhat of a professional identity, mostly through work.

As I mentioned in a previous post in June, I have some disagreements with my current manager, sometimes mild, sometimes serious. It has been an interesting challenge for me, as a relatively new employee, to bite my tongue when necessary. He made a comment yesterday that he felt it would be hard for me to be “retrained” due to the amount of experience I had elsewhere.

While I didn’t say anything, I realized after thinking about it overnight that he isn’t going to retrain me because the problem isn’t that I’ve been improperly trained. The issue is that I’ve developed a professional identity: an internal set of values, a significant amount of theoretical and practical training in my area, and a personal style incorporating the above with my own personality/temperament.

I accept that at my level of current employment I don’t get to call the shots. That’s part of the trade-off for having a position with limited responsibility that allows me to concentrate on school. But I’d really like to see a little more respect paid to my skills and experience rather than his apparent assumption that 5-10 years of my life were wasted and he somehow needs to “retrain” me.

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You know you’re a job coach if:

Here is something I wrote some time back as a joke among co-workers.

You know you’re a job coach if:

1. You’ve attended the new-employee orientation for a company multiple times but never received a paycheck from them

2. You refer to particular stores as “Mark’s Target” or “Anita’s Ralphs.”

3. If doing business at a store where you have clients, you make sure you’re not buying anything “sensitive” – feminine hygiene, underclothing, alcohol (or you go out of your way to visit a different store where you don’t have clients)

4. You have to resist the urge to “coach” your courtesy clerk when shopping for your own groceries (you’ve been a job coach too long if you DON’T resist)

5. You can state distances between various local retail centers/malls from memory

6. You know  lunch/coffee options on any given route off hand

7. You visit a restaurant and note how nicely the silverware is rolled

8. You know how to do paperwork in some interesting positions – leaning against walls, check stands, etc.

9. You see an advertisement on television and immediately think of how the promotion will affect your clients

10. You have a Bachelors Degree and years of experience but make less money than at least one of your clients

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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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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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