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.