Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Secret Client

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if social services were visited by secret clients, similarly to how secret shoppers assess businesses' quality.* I picture a secret client eyeing me suspiciously, taking notes as I sit with him and fill out the intake forms.

Assessing case managers' services isn't quite like evaluating a business though. At a social service agency, a client isn't receiving a straightforward good like food or hotel accommodations. Also, a case manager/client relationship is ongoing and collaborative, calling for a client's commitment to work on goals. At a certain level case managers have their own style as well.** This influences how well they work with different clients.

Assessing service during intake though is fairly straightforward. How's the case manager approach? Is she working on developing rapport with the client? Treating the client as a person, not as answers to a set of questions? Giving the client time to answer, asking very personal questions sensitively?

Though the secret shopper system may not work in this field this isn't to say case managers can't and shouldn't be assessed on a regular basis. It's only that criteria of doing this is layered due to nature of the job. Typically it's staff evaluating case managers' work, namely supervisors. At Empoder, colleagues offer their insights informally and sometimes even without being asked.

Still, it's valuable to know from the point of view of clients how you're doing your job. Case managers may learn this through confidential surveys from clients. One good indication that you're doing something right may be that majority of your clients come back or follow up.

* For the record, in regards to the concept behind secret shoppers: I don't think the customer is always right.

** Still, it's important within an agency that some uniformity exists in how case managers work with their clients. And clients do talk with each other.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Not a Therapist -- When Boundaries Make My Job Easier

A client of mine, Betty, lost a close relative. Betty and I had worked together for a fairly short time but more intensively in the past couple of weeks as the health of the relative she cared for declined.

Betty came in to talk with me and as she sat down she shared the news her relative passed away a day earlier at the hospital. She looked to the side while she talked about some of the details of what happened. I offered my condolences and asked if she wanted to talk with me about how she was feeling and she said no. I answered OK, adding an offer to look into supportive services with her if she'd like in the future, and our conversation turned to working on case management issues. What did she need help with? Burial plans, navigating insurance. Logistics. Betty has a sister but they were on difficult terms and she asked I help mediate between both of them. We did a conference call that went better than anticipated and Betty and her sister made plans to follow up later.

Towards the end of our appointment Betty asked about mental health services. We agreed to follow up to look into different options. After she left I thought that it's sometimes a relief that my job doesn't involve therapy. It may be helpful to focus on one area, particularly when a lot of practical work needs to get done.

It is important to let folks know that support exists beyond case managerial support. Therapy may not be appealing for all but the idea that it's accessible is comforting. Offering support, even in the shape of other agencies that offer more specialized support, also let's the people you're working with know you're thinking about how they may be feeling.

And as important: While it's helpful to review options, it's equally important to let the client lead. What s/he wants to focus on leads the professional collaboration.* This is something I continue and remind myself.

* With some caveats sure, but at its basic level a professional relationship is fruitful when a client's goals align with a case manager's goals.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Drawback of Stuff Swap Community Events

I was at a stuff swap community gathering a few days ago. For folks not familiar with this idea, people bring items they don't need (hopefully still in usable if not good condition) and take other items for free. Terrific concept. Reuse, recycle. Giving away items you don't need instead of throwing them away. I loved that it was on a larger scale level too, that people who didn't know each other took party in it. I've been to clothes swapping parties before, for example, but with friends.

I couldn't help but think though, while I was perusing the booths, of folks who aren't throwing items away but only adding more. That several people are coming away from the event with more items to apartments already overrun with belongings. I wondered if having a system would be helpful. For example, that for bringing a certain number of items to the event you may take away that same number of items. You bring 6 items and may take up to 6 items home. I wonder if this would help.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Joys of Running a Benefits Program Onsite

My agency hosted a benefits program a couple of weeks ago. Federal reps came in to process the applications and Empoder's job was to advertise the event and mediate traffic the day of the event.

An important conclusion if we choose to do this again: Be as specific as possible when advertising what documentats clients need to bring.

As.

Specific.

As possible.

Make sure all case managers know so they could review them with their clients. Now, I did make fairly detailed flyers that were fairly detailed and that asked clients bring the most recent copy of their income.

"But Social Security Administration didn't raise disability benefits in the past 2 years so what does it matter?"

The answer is the rules I do not make.* This answer is profoundly less joyous the day of the event.

Though I'm the most detail oriented person in the world even I didn't provide such detail in my written handouts. I know now how I would improve it but on the other hand, no handout covers everything. Even with an organized list of eligibility requirements there are several possible what ifs. What if a person has an expired ID? Or has a rent receipt but not a lease? Or no income this month but will starting from next month but right now her aunt is paying towards household expenses and her cousin isn't really staying with her but for most days out of the month she does da da da da da.

One good thing, it helps to run a benefit's program with familiar clients because some needed paperwork may already be available in a client's file. It's also easier to deescalate a situation when you or another case manager knows the upset person (aka client) who has been waiting for an hour and a half and found she's missing a document.

Important side notes: Keep a clear sign in sheet showing order of people who came in. Also, it certainly helps to check in with waiting clients occasionally and let them know how long wait will be. Or, since it may be hard to assess exact time, estimate how many more people may be seen.


* Technically Social Security Administration is supposed to mail you an awards letter (document that states how much you receive in disability benefits each month) each year but not everyone gets them. Or places them in a memorable place. Or knows what they are exactly.