Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Social Worker's Month

It is, I am told, Social Work Month.

A lot of special needs parents and adults have had interactions with this group of overworked, underappreciated professionals. This is one of mine.
My son was 4 when we started him in an early intervention program. At that time, he was non-verbal, had a lot of SIBs, was inclined to dump everything in the kitchen into large, disgusting piles, and he was a frequent fecal smearer.
As I have mentioned before, all government funded therapies for early intervention are in-home.
We had a few rough spots with our first service provider, although at the time I mostly blamed myself. My housekeeping was never up to their standards. (see I have failed)
We bought, with my mother-in-law's help, a small carpet cleaner, used disinfectant wipes, swept, vacuumed and mopped multiple times a day, and I was hopeful that it was enough.

It wasn't.

One day I got a knock on the door, and a pleasant middle aged man was at the door. He presented identification, and told me that there had been a call to child services about conditions in our home. That he was there to investigate this.

I honestly don't remember whether the house was at its best that day or not. Probably not. It was in the afternoon, while the Monkey was at his preschool, and Kitten was still a baby. I must have been polite, let him in, spoken at least somewhat coherently.

He went to each of the rooms in the house. The bedroom where Monkey had only the night before defecated and played with his toys in the feces. The bathroom where we cleaned him up. The living room with its hand-me-down cat scratched furniture and scattering of random toys, clothes and baby stuff. The kitchen, which I still hadn't managed to entirely rid of the soya sauce/formula/coffee stink from the Monkey's latest successful infiltration of the pantry.

The social services worker was quiet, patient, and pretty thorough in his inspection. I was in a state of shocked panic. All my doubts about what kind of parent I was were slamming through my brain. I remember trying to apologize for the mess, when I mentioned Monkey was autistic, and admitting that he smeared, and that I tried to get everything cleaned up but I didn't know, I might have missed something.

And then he stopped me and asked, sounding irritated, but not with me, "Hold on. Your son has autism?"

"Yes. He is at his special needs preschool right now."

"Somehow the reporter failed to mention that." And he sat down, and talked to me.

He said that even not knowing my son was autistic, he had found no grounds for concern in our house. The fact that there was a bit of a mess of toys and household stuff just told him that we cared about our kids and gave them an enriched environment. The report had mentioned the smell of feces and unpleasant food smells, but he couldn't smell any fecal odors, so we must have done a very good job of cleaning up, and the food smells didn't smell like rot or garbage, and there were no insect problems present, so there was no concern on his part there.
In fact, he had no concerns at all about the fitness of our home for our kids. He was clearly annoyed on our behalf as well as his own, that someone had called about this, without informing the office that we had a child with autism. He offered to give us a list of services available and help us find assistance for Monkey, but when I told him what we were doing and what we had applied for so far, he told me we were doing everything he would recommend, and it looked like we were doing a great job.
He still had to get my husband to come in with Monkey for a brief interview, but he saw no reason that when that was done, that they wouldn't be closing the case with no further action required.
He told me we were doing a great job.
It was the first time anyone had ever said that about my parenting.
That I wasn't failing.

Since then, I have met, online and offline, a lot of social workers. I have been delighted to discover that the worker we dealt with was not an exception, but one of many good, compassionate people who do a job that is not in any way easy.
Their clients include lot of people who have been put down, marginalized, and abused until they lash out at these front line workers who are there to help. Social workers handle these attacks with compassion, humour and astonishing grace under pressure.
They are criticised for not being perfect, for the flaws in the system that make their jobs insanely complicated and sometimes nearly impossible. 
They get frustrated and upset and angry, but they are professionals, and handle themselves as professionals.
The majority of social workers that I have known are dedicated, caring, and determined people who are genuinely interested in helping.

I want to say thank you, to the worker who investigated the call against us, and made it an ultimately positive experience. To all of the workers who deal with terrible situations and difficult people and still retain compassion. Thank you.

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