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.