Monday, December 27, 2010

Clients' Honesty and Mediation with Landlords and other Providers

I've met with two new clients over the past month who told me they were behind on rent by [# less than one month's rent]. After getting their permission to call their leasing companies I came back with (drumroll) fairly higher figures from their landlords. 

I suspected one client wasn't honest with me on how much she was behind, especially when we did her budget and she wasn't able to account for $150. It was this client though who was able to produce a few rent receipts that conflicted with what management said, and after looking at his bookkeeping the landlord admitted he made a mistake. Client was still behind but by a little over a month. 

Of clients I see, I'd say a little less than half of rental requests include figures by clients that aren't current. A lot are upfront about how far behind they are, some are perhaps hopeful they're not as behind as they actually are, and a few use deceit openly. Maybe clients who use deception think we'll write out a check before verifying the information and then they'll just have to take care of the rest of the backrent somewhere else (though I seriously doubt agencies pay without verification of at least a five day letter notice). Maybe it's a foot in the door technique (small request to be followed by a larger request)? Client thinks: If my case manager believes I'm behind by just $200 to then discover I'm behind by $500 he'll think "well, it's not that much more. We can pay that!" and skip over to write the check?

Other providers sometimes also contest what a client is saying. If I'm working with a new client I don't yet have rapport with or a client I suspect is trying to manipulate me I feel an initial draw to relate and maybe even believe the provider over my client. Why would the provider lie, this initial uncensored feeling would guide me, you're both on similar grounds. I'm very sensitive and guarded against this feeling and remind myself that I'm (along with the provider ideally) working to provide support and services to the client and am trying to figure out what's going on to help her. Provider and I may support each other, sure -- but it all goes back to the client.

Difficult situations develop when, say, I'm working with a client who's in the process of getting evicted and she shares her side of what happened, her provider disagrees, and I strongly believe my client. What happens in this case? The easy answer is that each case is unique and complicated in its own charming way. Some cases may need to be assessed more closely. Usually I get the impression each side is a bit biased in her take. Many times it comes down to working with the client and providers into figuring out the next step. What options does the client have? Sometimes it's easier to make sense of that than mediate a disagreement of what went down.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Coworkers, I'll Just Write about You if You Do This

Oh coworkers, who I've worked with these past three years, I have learned much from you. Some of what I've learned I won't model.

Saying "pretty please". Please don't. Especially when this comes with an approach of:

Generally acting cutesy. It doesn't help me in taking you seriously.*

Denying Coworkers' Vents
As long as these vents aren't taking over every other comment or story that a coworker shares, sometimes a coworker just needs you to listen first.

Asking me "Are you going home?" at the end of work day as a set up to enlist me to help you with a task you're working on. Clever guise, but annoying. If you know you have a program/volunteer event going on in advance, and typically you do, let me know in advance.

Do you have a minute?
Here's the thing, this question bothers me in specific contexts. If the context is "I have an issue with a client who doesn't have insurance, would you help me find a dentist for him?" I easily appreciate the tokenness of what "a minute" means. If the context is "I was assigned this task but really you should do it," then I don't. Probably because most associations with this last statement would annoy me and because I'm a literal person -- don't make it sound like asking me to do a task assigned to you will only take a minute to be bestowed onto my lap.

Jumping Up While We're Discussing Work Related Issue
We're still working out this issue, where are you going?? Be it a coworker or supervisor (and with some this is more of an issue than others), this bothers me quite a bit, especially if it happens with some frequency. "Oh, shoot," my coworker says, "that reminds me," and jumps up to leave my office. No, we're not done!

* Yes, I'm very serious. At work. And when not, I'm not cute.

For mirrored post, see modeling behavior from coworkers.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Removing Myself from this Seesaw

Even I, who typically have a lot of patience with my clients, am done. We first turned on internet service per your request at your apartment (calling provider together, working out details**), then called together to turn it off (for reasons that unfortunately didn't relate to service itself) and now you want it on again.

It was one thing if each of these calls didn't take 40 minutes either (what classical music will we hear this time for those 20 30 minutes we wait to talk to a rep?). I went ahead and was able to support you through the process twice because I understood why you needed help but I'm going to help you now by encouraging you to call yourself (we could even go over what you'd say) or directing you to locations that have free internet. 

** How I loathe the 'special deals' internet/phone flyers that give you a price of $19.99 that is not close to what you end up paying. I really would respect a company for giving you a realistic idea of what you're gonna pay up front.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Holding Back From New Staff

Social Working Mom recently wrote about ranting in front of new staff. She poignantly commented about possible repercussions of ranting about "unfixable" issues. From my understanding of her post these issues relate to the system (relating to public policy/benefits) that staff and clients work in. It made me think about how I approach and behave with new staff.

When I begin working with a new case manager I think about his initial impression of the agency and clients as he settles in. Venting or ranting without holding back from the beginning sets a certain atmosphere -- one that may quickly become toxic -- in an environment that's already tough, because of what clients deal with, because of our challenges with clients or amongst staff. In terms of general challenges I'd likely not hold back from commenting about issues I have with public policy, drawbacks of social security or public aid, but I would temper my words initially. This is tough, I would say (i.e. navigating public aid system), but on the other hand we have a contact who is able to help/share a contrasting point of view to try and balance the issue out.* I'd share training literature I've gathered over the years and with time more in depth discussions about these issues would come about. (Granted of course this is more appropriate for case managers who're new to the field and have less experience and familiarity with the system). Ranting about other clients or staff is another matter.

At this point, having been at Empoder for over three years I think I'd be extremely cautious about ranting in front of a new worker about other staff members. There's little point in it and it only nurtures further division between staff. I would choose my words carefully with a case manager even after she has been at Empoder for a few months. No need to ignore that working with some staff members may be challenging but no point in dwelling in it. I'd likely set the stage by offering tips on how to approach other staff members about certain issues instead of making a straight out negative comment.

As for ranting about other clients -- as staff we're working with and to support these folks and we need to remember that. I direct this foremost to me as this is something that I need to continue and keep myself in check in front of new staff. It's hard not to express frustration in front of a new worker but it needs to come from a removed setting and intensity with which it's shared needs to be kept in check. At times when I complain about a client unchecked I may want to say, "Why is John doing this to me?? Why is he not appreciating what I did to help him and sabotaging his opportunity?" while I have little to do with this equation. I shouldn't make it personal. 

I also have an inkling that I may appear scathing in my vents and rants and seem genuinely angry when I'm simply genuinely annoyed. Even if I speak in frustration and with intensity it's likely because I only need to let out the negativity for a minute or so before discussing it more reasonably. Also, sometimes I just vent about something small and petty (like a casual remark by a coworker that rubbed me the wrong way) that I just need to get out but new staff shouldn't hear that. 

I don't color a world of no conflict or struggles to new staff but I work hard to share these challenges soberly and not angrily. For more honest or angry vents I save my thoughts to those staff members who're in my personal support group, who've known me for the better part of the last three years, can handle it, troubleshoot or listen as needed, and after that if they don't have a vent of their own we seamlessly go back to work.

* Defending public aid office on something, yeah I know, who knew I'd do that. Even if these comments often go along the lines of caseworkers have very large caseloads and work under a bureaucratic system that sorely lacks money, this still doesn't make the job easy. Though if a person is going to be working with the public, particularly an underprivileged segment of society, it's shameful if he doesn't do his job sensitively and with understanding. It's clear when some case workers take an extra step compared to others who don't.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Worrying about Clients Outside Work

My good friend's dad used to work as a social worker for people experiencing homelessness. Frequently he would stay up worrying about how they were doing. I've gotten much better about boundaries since my early days as a bright eyed and bushy tailed case manager (looks at my three year old tail now) but I still catch myself sometimes thinking about a few clients while I'm at home. Most of my clients are also housed so while I'm not thinking about whether they found shelter for the night I think about other issues they're dealing with. What did they end up doing for the holiday? Did Charles follow up on paying the backrent like they told me they would? Should I call Teresa on Tuesday to remind her to go to the doctor's appointment or will she remember? It was so hard to get that referral and if she misses that appointment it'll be another month before she can be seen.

Some weekends I'm able to put aside work completely, but other times specific cases filter into my mind. And then I think about what I need to do the next week, even start troubleshooting what I would do if a client didn't follow up with the doctor / my client would be denied financial assistance by the state program she applied for. I also haven't heard from John in a while -- how is he doing?

A friend of mine gave me good advice when I'm starting a mental loop of what-else-should-I-be-thinking (worrying about getting done)-about workthought: Write everything I need to get done at work so I have a list ready for the next day. Which sometimes helps. In fact, I think I'm gonna go do that now.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Difference Between Old School Staff and Kiddie Staff

I step inside a coworker's office.

Me (sits down): I sent you an email. Did you get it?
Kiddie Staff: (Checks email in front of me)
Old School Staff: Why don't you just tell me what it was about?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It's Me Again Provider, Leaving a Message on Your VM

I'm going to be the message you hear on your voice mail every day. Until you call me back and let me know the status of my client's food stamps / make the referral for the specialist / call me back to discuss my client's housing situation. 

I've learned some tricks in my time. Being a pest is one way to get what you need in this field. Only takes five minutes of my time. I can do that. 

I don't go the daily call route in every situation, sure, but when I see the metaphorical "this will drag on" light go on while talking to a client I know what I need to do. At a time when I'm sitting in my office talking with a client on the phone and he says something like, "I've been going to public aid for the past month trying to sort out my food stamps and I brought the paperwork my case worker needed but my stamps still haven't started! My wife and I have no food at home."

Or I'm talking with a client who has Medicaid and realize that it'll be a battle to get him to see a specialist three weeks from now (if that) and that as he's having a tough medical condition and isn't able to sit at ER for the day, that calling the specialist scheduler once every two days is a good way to try and see if we can squeeze her earlier. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, when I'm doing it (advocating/annoying providers) for other people it's in some ways easier than doing it for myself.

Update (12/9/2010): Apparently waiting to hear back involves me hanging at my office during my lunch hour because those are the only times I hear back from a couple of you providers. Sneaky!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Challenge of Breadth of Case Management

Working with clients on a host of issues is exciting and daunting. Exciting to be working on tasks covering different areas, from legal to health to housing. True, much of it is more basic counseling -- I haven't suddenly turned into a doctor (even if a number of clients have little hesitation in sharing full details about their ailments) or another specialist. I do, however, have some background on a number of issues through training or experience. I'm familiar with the law to be able to counsel my client on basic courses of action to take when she has a maintenance concern that her landlord won't fix. As much of the job involves advocacy and referrals it helps to have some knowledge in my client's concern.

As part of this job I also become a resource genie. I know where to find medical resources for people who have no insurance, I know where clothes pantries are, or where you can find vouchers for certain furniture items. I know because I keep an eye out. I'm walking around and notice flyers advertising an upcoming workshop. Hmmm would clients or staff find it useful?... Let me grab that.  And I'll likely go to the workshop if I don't know much about the topic. I love training opportunities and enjoy learning for my clients and because I like to learn. 

Yet realizing the breadth of what our work as case managers at Empoder is at times daunting. I don't only work on finding a client housing or advising on a legal matter like other providers. I could potentially work with one client on several concerns. Add to that low income, perhaps mental illness or a child in the mix, and the fact that my caseload includes 35 other lower maintenance clients and awaaaaaaaaaaaaay we go. Over the past few years I've had a number of clients with multiple issues who became -- or still are -- intensive and demanding. 

I materialize my aspirations to become an octopus and get all the different tasks done. Unable to make multiple Anotolias I try and do that in my mind -- re-prioritizing my to do list throughout the day, plan, get a coworker on my team to help when he can, and plan to be surprised. 

Sure, having some set boundaries help and we do know what's expected of us and know what we typically help clients with. But it's not unusual to need to revisit these boundaries and to assess on an ongoing basis -- typically with more demanding clients -- what we're able to help with in the long term. Not to mention the duties as assigned clause. Some situations call on the case manager to take action when it seems no one else will take care of a problem a client is unable to deal with.*

In theory we're the middle person and no more. We help clients stay housed by providing emergency assistance, advocacy, and referrals. Yet due to the way our department is structured is that we often offer long term support -- the client is welcome to continue and receive case management services while she continues to live in one of the buildings we support. And if this client is willing to build a relationship with us and has ongoing challenge it's easier to see how we may become more deeply involved in a client's life.

* Possible reasons it's difficult to have a client's problem dealt with by a person who's not you -- lack of community (no family or friends), lack of other agencies in client's life, lack of funds by client.

Monday, November 15, 2010

It's Good to Be out in the Field

"Hi Anatolia!" A man's voice grabs me out of my daze of walking down the street during my lunch break.

The benefits of being out and about in the field during work hours, especially in the neighboring neighborhoods as many of my clients live near Empoder. The other day I bumped into a client I haven't seen in several months. He's one of about a dozen clients on my case load who doesn't have a phone which makes staying in touch difficult. "How are you doing?" He asked. I got a short update on how he was doing, then he said that he still wanted to change his primary physician, something he wanted to do last time we talked. We agreed he'll stop by to follow up with an appointment.

Bumping into clients is either a good way of reconnecting with a client who fell off the radar or find out that a less stable/follow through client is still around. 

On an amusing level it sometimes becomes a little cool boost. Check out all these people recognizing me on the streets and shouting hello at me. It reinforces a sense of community between me and my clients. I also sometimes see clients walking together who I know have met through our social events/workshops which makes me happy.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Delhi to Dublin Band

I wanted to share music by this cool cool band: Delhi to Dublin. A Punjabi and Celtic mix tossed with a little electric electronic and occasional reggae.

For more music, visit their Myspace page.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Power an Object Gives Us, or Power that We Associate with it?

An article that touches on another topic that interests me: The relationship we have with certain objects. Specifically, our belief that they give us strength or good fortune.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Don't Ask Me What You Should Do

To then take the exact opposite action. Ba! I've realized that giving advice (be it to clients, friends, long distance boyfriends, etc) is like giving a gift (not the metaphor, a physical gift) -- you don't know what the person's gonna do with it once you hand it over.

And no, I know how case manager/client dynamic works, I know the route of discussing-options-until-client-comes-to-his-choice/solution. But if you, the client, are going to ask me for advice on certain situations I will say what I think without much discussion because in some situations there's little room to debate. There may be more room to discuss how to deal with a tenant's issue in getting maintenance issues fixed, for example. But take specific diet choices -- I know that eating three candy bars a day isn't healthy, and yes, I will bring up alternative healthy options. "It's your choice," I will emphasize, but I'll also emphasize possible drawbacks of consuming junk food. I'll entertain the possibility of continuing to eat copious amounts of junk food in a negative light.

What, people who care about my life style don't make suggestions to me all the time? And don't I ign-- take their words seriously and then decide whether it's advice that's convenient enough for me to follow? Though sometimes even if I don't take advice right away and do something different some of the advice sticks.

Gotta keep myself in check of the ease in which it is to look at another person and see what choices she's making that are harmful to herself and think, why doesn't she just do this? (Though it is hard to see a person take action that hurts himself)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Appreciating Limits of Your Control

I've been becoming more open minded about the well known but highly resisted truth that I don't have control over what other people do -- only myself -- what I do and how I react. Yes, for a lot of us it's something we understood early on, but though in the past I understood it on a superficial level I didn't appreciate how it's a liberating understanding. Interestingly this idea grew in my mind after hearing my supervisor saying that to a client and me discussing this same concept with another client. It's certainly one of those truths that are hard to accept and I realized I myself was acting hypercritically by not accepting it fully. 

It is a relief because it makes me think about what battles I want to fight, what realistically I can expect from myself and other people --  not just in terms of work, like appreciating clients' degree of responsibility over their actions but also in relationships in my personal life. It helps in letting some things go. Maybe my client won't choose to change her eating habits that include a lot of sugar and fat and I can encourage, even go shopping with her and discussing nutritious eating habits and products. Yet she has the final choice of the diet she wants to follow. I do what I can.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Imagine this Image While Thinking of Your Prospective Landlord

Housing representative, during presentation to clients seeking a housing subsidy program:

"And when you apply (for this housing program), make sure to indicate how many people are moving in with you. Otherwise, how will the landlord know how many people to expect into his welcoming arms the day you move in??"

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Holding Down the Fort

Reminder to myself that when a coworker leaves on vacation and divies up clients, in terms of who their point of contact is while he's away (Jake, you get Boris, he prefers to work with a man. Tammy, you get Mary, she hasn't been taking her psych meds for the past few days. Good luck!) to make sure I take relatively good notes on clients other coworkers got. There may just be a chance that both Tammy and Jake will be ill or otherwise not in the office a couple of days leaving me to try and decipher a hastily written one sentence next to 'Boris -- Tammy.'

Monday, October 18, 2010

Clients Coming in with One Goal: To Move

Last year we had a string of participants come in for intakes whose main request was to move out of their current housing. We've had this happen again this past month. Two most frequent reasons for wanting to move: 1) They're on a fixed income and they're looking for a more affordable apartment (in some instances these clients pay more than 50% of their income towards rent) or 2) because they have ongoing issues with their current apartment like pests or other maintenance issues that are not getting fixed.

My department doesn't have an incentive to keep clients in their housing per se. We don't operate the buildings or pay clients' rent. If clients are dealing with maintenance related issues we first offer to advocate on the clients' behalf. If clients are intent on moving out we'll discuss this further and try and look at options. However, we're able to foresee a few serious challenges many participants face in trying to move.

A straight forward one is related to getting the coveted subsidized housing opportunity (rent is 30% of one's income) -- process is typically long, years long. Not impossible in this city, but it takes time and/or luck so this'll usually be a long term plan. It'll likely involve standing in multiple long lines to sign up to be included on waiting lists for subsidized units (on the occasion these waiting lists open up). If you're a senior you do have it a bit easier since you're able to pursue senior subsidized housing options.  

Apart from the happy waiting game for subsidized housing, some clients face challenges in finding market rent apartments because they have poor credit or because rent is just as high in another apartment (but the other apartment is nicer). They also need to come up with first month's rent and security deposit which is challenging for a person with a fixed income. Depending on the reason they want to move (or more realistically: the reason they need to move, aka emergency situation) they may be eligible for funds from us or another agency.

It is interesting when we, supportive housing department staff, find ourselves working with a good number of residents specifically on moving out (as our goal is homelessness prevention) but I certainly appreciate wanting to have more money left over after you pay your rent and/or that your apartment and building is well maintained and problems are addressed in a timely manner.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Don't Blindly Believe What a Client Says About

A staff member who you don't particularly get along with or dare I say it, like on a professional level. A reminder to myself...

"[Staff member] Debbie said that you'd be able to help me with security deposit to a new apartment," says client Julia and my instinct reaction, since I don't always get along with Debbie, is to think, Debbie grrrrr, why are you committing my department???

Based on past experiences Debbie has done a few things that wouldn't make this statement sound too outlandish. But maybe she told Julia that my department may help and it turned into will help by the time Julia spoke to me. Maybe she just told Julia Debbie to talk to me.

It's funny how easier it is to give staff (and regular people) the benefit of the doubt when you get along well with them. All in the perception.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sticking Out a Case Management Job...

I've been at this job for almost four years. Some perks from having spent all this time in my case management job:

Reaching optimal level of trust and comfort with clients.
I probably felt this way around my second year, specifically with many of my clients who I had worked with from when I started. Trust was cemented quite well in most cases and we interacted smoothly. Some of this comes from sheer time of knowing them -- that psychological term that familiarity breeds liking. It also comes from continuing to learn more about a client and from having worked with them through concerns or crises. After three and half years I can get away with being more direct with them or calling them out on things. I am better able to expect how our interactions will play out or see patterns in their behavior (I did get good advice not to get too comfortable with clients -- there's still a professional distance that I need to keep).

On a related note, it's easier to tell clients (particularly ones who ask often) 'no' after working with them for several years and knowing exactly what my agency has been able to help them with, as well as knowing their financial situation well. I tend to believe that even if I haven't been able to give clients frequent goods in terms of gift cards I worked hard for many them in other ways and most of them know it.
I've started seeing some clients finally be eligible to apply for age-related housing programs or benefits because they've hit the right age. Alternatively some clients have finally gotten to the top of the waiting list for more affordable housing

Getting into a rhythm. Csikszentmihalyi's flow. Getting immersed in what I'm doing and sensing a natural rhythm from one task to another. Meeting with clients, making calls, an email to a provider, off to a home visit. I know I won't get done everything I need to by the end of the day because I am always 20 seconds away from hearing about something else that needs to get done, preferably now. But I'm here for the day to keep it going.

What's made me stick around? I enjoy what I do, I enjoy working with my clients, understand my limitations and am continuing to learn how to deal with burnout. Important too is knowing I have a team that has my back and that generally staff at Empoder is incredibly supportive. I wish this was better understood in social services because clients benefit immensely from working with the same staff* for at least two years.

* Though if you want to be snickery, I suppose it depends on who staff is too.

Also see A Few Numbers from the Past Three Years

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Duty of Not Judging

I try to stay aware of when I start feeling judgy about a client's behavior or choices. I was meeting with a gentleman and advocating on his behalf to try and get the amount of his check adjusted since much of it was cut because of owed child support. Due to his garnished wages he was no longer able to even afford rent. A part of me couldn't resist feeling that some justice was made. He didn't attempt to pay child support nor did he come to court when he was summoned and now found himself in a tough spot because he didn't take care of his duties as a dad.

We don't judge. Or we shouldn't judge as case managers.* It's not fair that a father doesn't take care of his kids but his check shouldn't be reduced so greatly that he can barely live off his income. Not to take away from his responsibility that he should've taken care of his responsibilities. But he already got the results of his mistake and now he'll have to pay child support. It's my job to advocate that he gets a more fair judgment.

I've worked with men who failed to pay child support, people who committed felonies, people who were involved in domestic abuse towards their partner, past or current drug or alcohol abusers. It's illuminating to work with people who've made choices I may not agree or understand. It makes me think -- about what brings people to make decisions they do and the context in which they make choices. 

I don't think it's such a wide gap  a person from making a right or wrong decision (of course defining right and wrong is another story, but I would keep it as a right decision is one that doesn't hurt yourself or another person). Makes me think also about how society views people with a tarnished background, particularly in terms of rehabilitation. It's challenging in many ways to force myself to consider another person's perspective.

* I'm separating judging from reacting to a situation that we know a client is actively wanting to or is hurting himself or another person.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Couple of Grrrr Comments

1. I got a voicemail from a client last week that was perfectly clear except for one word. What was your diagnosis? It sounded like it started with a T... Maybe had three syllables? Which OK, I can just call the client back. But I just talked to this client once that day and twice the day before and it takes Herculean efforts to keep these calls less then 7 minutes long.

2. On another note, how grrrring is it when you're waiting for a call back from a provider (i.e. the ever elusive public aid case worker) and you keep getting calls from one client. Not necessarily the client for whom you're trying to reach the provider, just a frequent caller. Like every other day frequent.

Show me love provider! Or I will be forced to pull a frequent caller move on you!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Allure of Gift Cards and Clients

A few weeks ago my agency got a limited number of gift cards for a large department store. I'm actually surprised it took this long for word of mouth to spread about them but a few clients approached me today and asked if I had one. 

How to answer this question diplomatically... Though I still have a few left I've put them aside for specific clients who're particularly high need -- i.e. clients going through a crisis situation, a couple of families, client who's paying the brunt of her income towards rent. If I know the client's financial situation and I haven't included him in my list of card recipients I usually answer, "Sorry, those cards have been accounted for already," and then try to get an idea of how they're doing financially (is there an update in their financial situation? Are they open to talking about their budgeting? The latter a rare but encouraging occurrence). It's still possible to brainstorm some budgeting ideas in this case (whether in saving or increasing income), although granted these aren't as appealing as the idea of receiving a gift card.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Modeling Behavior from Coworkers

Oh coworkers, who I've worked with these past three years, I have learned much from you. And some of your behaviors I've adopted.

The Silent Stare or "What am I Supposed to Do About This?"
Aaron (who has sadly left the agency recently) would do a lot around the office -- much more than call of duty -- and naturally the rest of us became very dependent on him. Every once in a while someone would tell Aaron something that sounded like a request but would be something he wasn't available (or that he decided wasn't appropriate) to do. His recourse: Stare silently at the person. Eventually said person would walk away. Brilliant move.

Though may not work as well with direct requests or with supervisors.

Using the Term, "friend"
Another coworker has a gift of making people feel immediately welcome through her warm demeanor.

She often addresses clients with 'friend' as they come in to a workshop or a group event. She does it so naturally and usually people respond to it well. It sets a friendly environment. With time I've adopted using this greeting as people filter into a room. And OK, a couple of times in informal situations outside work with strangers.

Going About Finding Out if a Client is Lying
For most people this comes naturally but for me this is a weakness. I tend to take people at face value because that's the way I am. I'm typically more apt to trust someone unless the story doesn't add up from the get go or if trust has been broken with client previously. 

A coworker advised me that if I'm suspicious that a client is lying to avoid following my instinct (that would go along the lines of "You're lying to me!!") but instead ask questions to verify what she's saying. For some common sense, for me helpful.

You've had an ongoing conversation with a client about her applying for a benefits card or another task that keeps being put off and remains at discussion stage. Not something that doesn't happen with other people (see family members). Presenting a task as something you'll be doing at a specific time may better commit a client to do it.

When Possible Write Case Notes Immediately After Contact
When and if that's not possible do your best to write them the day of. I did thank my coworker who suggested this later.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sharing of Information a Two Way Street

I smiled as I listened to my client's voice message, correcting me on information included in a flyer my department dispersed in our buildings*. The flyer advertised meal programs and food pantries in the area. "That [specific pantry] is actually not open on Mondays anymore." A quick check... She was right (and this since we had confirmed the information as recently as the previous month with the provider). Flyers to be corrected.

* The buildings we provide case manager services to, naturally

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Thank You Sticks

I had a good conversation on Friday with Bea, a new client I started working with a couple of weeks ago. Bea is 1of 5 clients who were transferred to me from a case manager who left Empoder two months ago. Bea came to Empoder two weeks ago and since then we had three conversations (one face to face). I had an inkling initially that it would be hard for me to connect with her because I sensed our personalities don't mesh well together. Putting that aside, I also of course appreciated the Bea's challenge in starting to work with a new case manager after having known her old case manager for some time. 

During my first meeting with Bea she came in to talk about a lot of issues she was dealing with relating to her child, her personal physical and mental health, and her apartment. I tried to focus her in hopes of prioritizing what we need to work on and she didn't respond well. I eventually offered to advocate on her behalf with what seemed to be the highest priority for her and she didn't seem responsive though she did say that I had a release from the old case manager to talk on her behalf to this provider. I followed up with her and called her on Friday to follow up. At the end of our phone conversation she thanked me for calling her back. 

It's not like thank yous at my job are equivalent to myths of dragons. But for some reason, maybe because I didn't expect her to say that, it stuck with me. I repeated this moment later that afternoon when a client raised his voice at me. Running an errand later that evening a couple of people pushed ahead in line of me and I repeated it again. It felt good to have a moment like that stick.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Community in Coworkers

A year ago I admonished against spending too much time with your coworkers. I still stand by this advice, particularly as I've realized recently just how much time I spend with some of my coworkers.

After graduating from college I looked for a new community made of what each person needs: friends, acquaintances, an enemy or two. Family was spread out and though I had a few good friends in the city they didn't necessarily make a cohesive group. Over time I found a fairly reliable community at work. Put people of the same same age and interests (frankly sometimes age is enough) in a building for several hours each day and a few friendships are bound to develop. But sure, we found common grounds in our approach to work, namely through our varying degrees of bright eyes and bushy tails.

Perhaps if I would've listened to myself more I would've realized that I needed to put more effort in developing community outside work. For one thing, the line between friends and coworkers may be fairly fine. If you have a fallout with your friend but still need to see her 40 hours a week it's painful. Putting these more extreme situations aside, befriending your coworkers means 10 additional hours a week involve discussions about work, rants about coworkers, and complaints about how you don't want to talk about work (but did you see when---). Then something like your coworker friend coughing reminds you of something your client Lilly said or worse, some task you need to do with Lilly.

I do have friends outside Empoder but I want to nurture and expand this part of my life. Would be Interesting to revisit this in a year.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Looking for Help in Other Agencies aka Referrals

The nature of case management means breadth of services. Connecting clients with health services they need, making sure they're getting public aid benefits they're eligible for, helping them locate housing programs, going on occasional excursions to public aid/doctor/lawyer appointments, work with them on budgeting, being a listening ear, and so on.

I've written before about my challenge in asking other staff members for help. I still need to find a time to sit down with my supervisor Feona and look at what I am able to work on with my more demanding clients and where I need to refer them for outside services. For various reasons I haven't been able to sit down with her do this. For one client I have managed to work out a system that other staff helps me with ongoing tasks but I need to discuss Feona how to deal with my other 5 demanding clients. I know in some cases this will mean referring them to other agencies for some services and I know I need to realize that really there's nothing wrong with that.

Problem is I keep thinking I will be able to take care of ongoing tasks and that if I keep at it the flow will slow down. Yet my caseload continues to be around the mid 30s and it's not like we're not accepting new clients into the supportive housing program. I am referring folks out to other agencies for specific programs but usually by their request.

I realize I also try to help outside of the typical scope of what my program does, like try and help clients (who're caught in a difficult situation and ask for this help) find alternative housing while it's not something we typically do. Yet I need to remind myself other agencies help with these services. In some situations I should be suggesting to clients to search for help in other agencies earlier on. I don't mean open my office door to let them out and wish them luck but refer them to specific organizations. I also need to remind myself that I'm not able to concentrate 40% of my time on five clients because it's not fair to my other clients.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

To Helpful People Along the Way

Numerous providers from doctors to social workers to interns to receptionists and so on have helped me along my professional way these past few years. This is an ode to them. 

A lawyer who researched a different area of the law while he and I were talking on the phone.

Anyone who has sent me information on an upcoming free training opportunity (taking part in these is the closest thing I have to going to school right now too).

Being sent back and forth from one department to another at a hospital while walking with an injured client to finally confronting a nurse near our wit's end and having him help us quickly and kindly. 

For representatives who asked aloud "Hmmm... Can I do that?.." and went ahead and faxed me the soon-to-be-ever-valuable copy of an application (that would then be dispersed to all the case managers and to clients who needed them instead of going through the entire process of getting the form each time).

The doctor who picked off a bed bug from my client's coat with a piece of tissue without hesitating.

A social worker who didn't give up on trying to get a hold of me even through playing phone tag for over a week.

An encouraging word here and there. 

This is just a token of my appreciation for these gestures from the many people I've talked with over the past three and some years whether I got their names or not. HA! Trick statement, I always get the names.

Thanks to everyone who fights the fight in whatever way she or he does it.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Taking a Closer Look at Subjects of Psychology Studies

Giridharadas's article in the New York Times raises a valuable question through exploring a recent study published in Behavioral and Brain Studies criticizing psychology studies' narrow subject base

I remember discussing this in a psychology class. Many subjects of psychology studies not only often come from western countries (frequently the US) but tend to be college students as well. Could some studies' results be extrapolated to society at large when this is such a narrow segment of the population? Consider one example: Individualism and choice are both highly regarded values in US society. These values are not necessarily shared with more traditional societies.

As a side note (and for this you need to read the article): 50 ice cream flavors to choose from?? I would much rather only choose from 10. Fifty choices sound to me mostly an overwhelming number of options.

Article was linked to on American Psychological Association's Psychology NewsWire.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Learning Social Skills

Case Manager: Say a person knocks on your [apartment] door. What do you tell him if you can't him see at that moment?
Client: .... I'm busy right now..?
Case Manager: Yes. And.....?
Client: ....
Case Manager: What do you tell someone who you can't see right at that moment? What would you want to hear if someone wasn't able to see you?
Client: ..... .....  I can't be bothered....?

Monday, August 23, 2010

At Some Point, Just Tell Client You're Going to Do Something

I have a client, Mary, who's eligible for a voucher that may be used for occasional health screenings/clothes/food at a location near her house. It's a great program but the voucher needs to be renewed every 3 years. Since Mary's voucher expired four months ago she has been going elsewhere to get these services but isn't always able to consistently get them and usually ends up spending a lot more time traveling to other agencies.

Mary doesn't want to renew her voucher. It is a bit of a hassle since the voucher needs to be renewed at a location further away from her. On the other hand this one trip means more support for three years. Part of the reason she doesn't want to go (and this affects our working relationship in other ways) is because Mary has mental health issues that she's not receiving medication for.

For the past three months I've been encouraging her to sign up for the voucher and have offered to go with her several times but Mary usually says she has a lot of other matters to take care of and has refused my help.

I was talking to a coworker about this and she suggested that I don't offer to go with my client but just tell her, "Let's take care of this at this and this time." Don't ask, but present it as a task to be completed. It's true I've tried this approach with other clients, particularly those that I've worked with closely and it has usually worked. Let's see how it works with this client. 

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Odd/Uncomfortable Moments With Clients and Staff (Part 4)

Me: Did you decide who you're going to vote for (in the local elections)?
Client (curtly): That's none of your business.

(During Job interview over the phone between prospective employer and client)
Prospective employer: What's your phone number?
Client: I don't like that question. I'm done with this interview. (Client hangs up)
(Case manager regrets referring client to employer)

Message left on my answering machine: Hi, I'm calling from (four states away) to talk about someone who needs services in your city--

Staff member: Did you know that (client's name) passed away?
Me: No.
A fair mistake (staff member's delivery), perhaps. But for the future -- New rule: Always assume your coworker doesn't know that her client has passed away.

Also see part 3

Friday, August 13, 2010

Overheard at Budgeting Workshop

"I can't budget with this kind of money!!!"
Participant at a budgeting workshop (targeting providers) informed to budget with a monthly income of $750.

Does it help she was from the corporate world as opposed to social work? Not sure.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Carrying All Your Possessions with You

I'm on my way to visit a client and see a stack of dozens of bags and boxes laid out a block away. A few steps closer I see they're lying right by a bus stop. Only when I pass them do I see their owner sitting on the sidewalk, his face turned away from the sun. 

The vulnerability of having your belongings out in the open and having to move them, everything you own, each time you move from one place to another isn't something I fully grasp.
 I  pass by and can't help but think about the logistics of needing to move all these items on your own. It's not an uncommon sight to see folks experiencing homelessness in the neighborhoods we serve, but usually I don't see folks carrying a lot of bags with them.

Though I work with clients who're at risk to lose their housing (due to financial challenges, for example) the vast majority of my clients are already housed. A lot of exposure I have to people experiencing homelessness is through other case managers in my agency or passing by homeless folks outside. And of course, through accounts that I've read in books and such. I appreciate working for an agency that (through other departments) reaches out to people who experience homelessness.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Finding a Release

I've gotten involved in a community comedy sketch group in the last couple of months. A couple of people in the group have several years of experience either in acting or improv and occasionally take the role of teachers in our sessions. My only previous experience with acting is taking a couple of high school drama classes.

It has been an incredible release. I've particularly been enjoying doing improv which is a more freestyle form of acting. It has been great to take part in a creative activity (and something that has nothing to do with anything relating to my work). That being said, one growing challenge, as we've been learning more skills, is juggling them in a short time -- sometimes scenes are as short as 30 seconds. In that time you need to develop a character, react to your partner, stick to the same initial choice you make (for example, in mood), interact with an imaginary environment. It feels likes I'm juggling 8 balls when I'm fairly comfortable juggling just two.

I was trying to think what I should concentrate on most during improv scenes. I think working on my character and reacting to my partner is what I need to focus on. It shouldn't be work I remind myself. It should be a game. Playful. I need that.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Haven't Come Across this in a Rental Request

A coworker recently screened* a new client and I was looking over the screening paper. This particular client was asking for assistance with past due rent. Now in screening we don't go into detail of client's request and budget. I don't know much about this case to comment any further beyond stating that it was the first time I've seen a client screened in who earns more money than I do.

* A meeting where we take down basic info, like client's basic information and reason for visit.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ask Me How Not Asking for Help Worked for Me

I got a call from reception letting me know Harry was in the lobby asking for me. Harry had showed up with no notice and asked me for help in going to the doctor. Though it wasn't exactly an emergency situation I decided to accompany him. I spoke to my supervisor Feona to let her know where I was going and the two of us left for the clinic that was down the street a few blocks away.

About halfway there I realized that I should've asked for another staff member to come with me. For sake of confidentiality I prefer not to go into details. I will say that If I had thought the trip through for 10 seconds I would've realized I needed a hand. I did end up getting a bit of needed help from a kind passerby.

Sometimes I'm not very good about asking for help. I get prideful or feel a sense of obligation that I need to take care of a task by myself. It's an obnoxious attitude that true, at times I need to have it -- at moments that I need to solve a problem by myself. Other times though it's easier to avoid the hassle and just ask.