Category: Social Work Practice

“Auntie Getrude”

Family quote (from the web)

This has become my new name ever since I became a social worker in residential care.  It is funny how the
work done with children makes one slip into a role they never thought they could slip into. Growing up and whilst doing my four year degree in social work I never thought I would one day be called ‘Aunty Getrude’ unless one of my siblings gives birth to a child. I still laugh to myself when I think about it.

During the first days I found it disconcerting to have to answer to my name paired with an auntie. It made me feel a little bit old because the children I work with are between the ages of 0-18. Especially with the girls in their late teens I still find it weird since we are just a few years apart.  I needed to understand why I could not just be called by my name. I then found out it was an issue of respect and so that the children do not get too familiar with you that they treat you like they would their peer.  I also realized with pride that my degree puts me into a position of respect regardless of my age. So I had to get used to it…

But then I really dag deeper into the meaning of “auntie” in a children’s home. When working with vulnerable children some of them come from traumatic pasts and experienced betrayal by their own families. One needs to be careful in dealing with them.  If for example when the children relate to a worker and form a relationship based on trust and mutual
understanding, it is so easy for attachment to form. Imagine if a child who has lost her biological mother or whose mother abandoned her at birth starts calling you “mummy”???? That would definitely change the dynamics because there is a certain role and expectation that comes with that name. It also becomes hard upon termination to leave a child who has gotten attached to you as a “mother”. This puts a huge responsibility on one’s shoulders and blurs the lines of professionalism. Also one does not want to replace real parents in social work; you help children rebuild their lives with the hopes of reunification with their real families where possible. So it is better not to confuse the children into thinking wherever they go they can get new “mummies”.

So “aunty” for me became the most neutral name one can adopt when working with children. It means I am here for you; I care for you even though I am not part of your biological family. “You can call me aunty”!!! I have experienced that the children too find it easier to call a stranger “auntie” when they are introduced to them the first time.

I love being “Auntie Getrude” because it shows I have a role to play in these children’s lives. My relationship with them is not superficial but it is also not trying to take the place of the real relatives in their lives. They always have to be reminded that even though they are in a care facility they still have their own families who might or might not care for them but they exist. Here are a few quotes I found on family :

To us, family means putting your arms around each other and being there ~Barbara Bush

Having a place to go – is a home. Having someone to love is a family. Having both is a blessing ~Donna Hedges.

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A day in the life…..

I just thought about how different a typical day in my life would be from someone in a different field of social work than mine. So i thought what’s a typical day in the life of a residential social worker like…. for those in different areas of social work who might wonder!!! Well first of all a day in my life is a blessing and a curse..all in one.

What is residential care one might ask?This is when a social worker works with children or adults who are in an institution such as a children’s home or shelter. This means the child/adult resides there and the programme caters for their accommodation needs as well as all their other basic needs. So im one of those social workers fortunate enough to be office bound and working with children residing on the premises until they can leave care. My particular residential care programme caters for behavior problem children….which makes it all the more interesting and different from someone dealing with regular kids. I shall explain….

So i wake up in the morning, if it is a Monday i cant wait to get to the office because I have no idea what was taking place all weekend. In most cases its chaotic during weekends considering my age group 11-18, yes your adolescents!!!! So i get to the office and before i even get a chance to get my first cup of coffee im greeted with an incident. Two girls absconded over the weekend!!!!*sigh* Now this is a normal occurrence in residential care. When a child absconds they go off the premises without permission and they do not come back. When i first started my first thought would be “are they missing”, “we need to find them”!!!!  Until i learnt that these young adults are so eager for freedom that they go out on weekends to have some fun and come back late Monday afternoon. So then I stopped worrying so much about searching for them, but what if one day this is not the case??? What if one day something has in fact happened???

Anyway so i have a discussion with the child care worker on duty and find out what went on during the weekend and all the other details. I take time to read the record book, which contains the record of all the happenings everyday. My task then is to inform all the outside social workers of the absconders that the children are gallivanting around town somewhere and need to be found and brought back( lucky this is not my task, the external social worker has to do it). So then I inform the families and ask them to keep a look out but these children seldom run back to their families. Its usually boyfriends and friends they run to. This takes me about 2 hours to complete (discussion, reading and then phoning around). Lets not forget explaining to the external social worker how the child managed to abscond in the first place…oh joy!!!!they never get that these children ask to take an ïnnocent walk” to the shop and then never come back.

Finally i can have a cup of coffee and get on with the day’s work. My day then consists of ensuring that the children remaining in care are all fine and there is nothing that needs following up ( medical check-ups, school, social work reports, letters to organisations for various things,intake meetings with social workers bringing children who want to be placed). I do this and sort out any loose ends. The phone calls also come in during all this and I have to address the same concerns from schools, external social workers,parents and guardians. And then before you know it its lunch time.

Do i get a lunch time in a children’s home? Yes about 30mins if i leave the premises. But if i do not leave then my lunch hour is filled with phone calls, dealing with any concern a child feels needs attention now and not 30 mins later. If you are present then you are there, deal with it. I don’t complain, i love what i do.

After lunch is probably my best time.., counselling sessions with the girls. This is our bonding time, our time to share the emotional and the good. This is when the tissue box comes for the tears or when we are having quiet sessions drawing or writing how we feel. i love this time. This is when I feel useful to the children i work with, this is when i dig deep and get to the source of why the child is not at home with the parents and deal with whatever feelings come out. Its also when i feel most drained if i cannot do anything to take away one’s sorrow, but sharing always goes a long way. So i can see about three an afternoon, 30 mins-45mins each and the day is done.

This is a typical good day by the way….without the tantrums, without the suicide threats and emergency trips to the hospital, without the fights and having to spend hours breaking them, without the irrational external social workers who come and make decisions for the children that are not in their best interests,without having to answer questions like why did my mother die,without the moods from the teenagers when they are on their period and having to be sworn at.

This is definitely an example of a good day.

Still smiling……

Mind vs Heart

It is a Friday afternoon,there goes another hectic week at the office. Still doing what I know best…. social work. On my mind is the equation of the mind over heart!!!!! I realise that there is no way one can avoid the engagement of these two in social work. Professionalism has its limits and sometimes whether we like it or not, something pulls at our heartstrings during the execution of our work.

So how much of the heart should be allowed room in social work??? No human being can switch on and off emotions at will and how then are social workers sometimes expected to put professionalism first before their human nature?If I am affected, dare I show my feelings? Dare i cry?

Often enough in social work one is moved to emotions. This is due to the nature of the work which includes, but is not limited to vulnerability,poverty,helplessness,abuse of children, exploitation of children,abandonment, neglect. All these I have encountered in my line of work, but I have had to bear with it for the sake of the children who need help. “Put your emotions aside, know the bridge between sympathy and empathy”!!!! It comes with practice. I recall working with abandoned new-born babies, picking them in fields where they would have been dumped or being called to come and remove a child abandoned at birth by the biological mother. Often  the experience of holding that child in my arms for a few moments en-route to the car and leaving them at their new home which as the social worker it is your responsibility to find…that experience leaves you with a mark. I had so many days when I wanted to bring those newborns home with me, again crossing the boundaries of attachment to the client. But as a woman you just cannot help feeling a motherly tug at your heart.

So where does one draw the line between mind and heart? Mind says these are the principles of practice,heart says “I am hurt, I am disappointed,I am human”…..but who takes care of you as the social worker?????

Well that’s a topic for another day….I am currently researching on care for the carer!!! How do social service professionals get personal care after the trauma they deal with everyday?

Stay tuned and have a lovely weekend!!!!