WI Voices: A Social Worker (update)

 

 “Megan”, a social worker in Child Protective Services, first told her story in May when the debate of Gov. Walker’s Budget Repair Bill was still underway.  Now that the bill has passed, Megan has agreed to offer an inside view of the recent changes to her workplace.  She also provides intimate details about how the BRB has affected her personal life and the lives of the families that she serves. 

 Here’s her continuing story.

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 Any new developments at your place of work since the Budget Repair Bill has passed?

(nodding) For the first time, we just had a “Quality Service Review” from the state, and they randomly select cases.  And the case of mine that they chose I felt relatively confident about and I was (thinking), go ahead and look at that one…I’m feeling good about it.  And I got high scores in the areas of engagement and really, you know, assessing what the true concerns of the family were.  But I had gotten some…you know, step-down scores in my documentation.  And I’m thinking, I did do that but I just didn’t have time to document it!  And then I fear that was one of the cases that I did top notch work. (sighing)  And now my caseloads are increasing and we are going to lose resources… and the belt has already been tightened, and we are going to have even less to offer clients.

I walked away beating myself up, feeling like, how am I going to show that I really am doing good work?  I’m hearing that what is going to matter, and what the state is going to want to see, is what you are going to put out in documentation.  And I question the impact overall on the families that we serve.

*** [The Wisconsin Council on Children & Families asserts that the proposed changes to BadgerCare may have a more severe effect on children then their parents.  For instance, under the current system a parent may lose healthcare for up to 6 months if a monthly BadgerCare premium is missed.  The new proposal allows for the state to withhold healthcare from their children as well; and, for up to one year.]

And that is kind of brewing with these other things like loss of bargaining rights.  And now they are starting these focus groups at work to address how things will look.

 Are these “Focus Groups” a new development since the BRB was passed?

 (nodding) And I have to give credit that the county did open it up to all employees to participate in whatever group they had an interest in.  But for me there was a time issue, and I had to trust that there would be people there that would represent the voice of the workers.  However, some of the feedback that came back was moving away from the ability to post into new positions.  And basing performance and pay by how well you do on paper.  Some pretty vocal people are proposing that (our work) should be based on (paperwork). 

(Megan expressed frustration at the appearance of favoritism when noting that certain people were hand selected to participate in certain groups.  She questions the motivation for the formulation of the Focus Groups, and also the selection process to fill those groups.

So my question is: “Who is going to determine the standards that we are measured by?”  Is it all going to be based on documentation?  Because I still believe strongly that, you know, true social work is the work that you do with the families, the relationship that you build with them.

Would you provide an example of “true social work” that the state’s documentation wouldn’t necessarily measure?

I guess an example would be I have a case where a parent works the night shift.  So, her solution was to have roommates move into the home. They get free room and board, but they provide the childcare.  However, generally people who need free room and board come with the baggage (sideways smile, raise eyebrows)….you know, whether it is AODA (drug/alcohol) issues, criminal issues, um, so there’s some concern. 

Yet I see as the strength of this parent is keeping her job.  She’s worked there for several years, so that is a long work history.  She’s making good wages, considering what is available.  Yet, she’s got many kids. And her way of problem solving daycare, since they don’t qualify for daycare assistance because she makes too much – is to have someone watch their kids. But then the questionable reports start coming in from mandated reporters at the school because of what they are hearing about the home.  So, it is kind of a cycle. 

That kind of case I see value in bringing in family and friends to put our heads together and come up with a solution.  But facilitating a meeting takes time, accommodation of everyone’s work schedule, you know – it goes beyond an 8-5 job.  (But the state is mandating a strict time table.)  So, you can see the difference in workers in a case like this.  The ones that are behind in their assessments are analytical, they are true assessments, you really understand the families and their true dynamics.  The ones that are done quickly every time leave you going, “yeah, I don’t really understand all the problems that this family has, but apparently they are fine.” 

 So, that is the difference that I struggle with ….which one is more effective? And I guess my outcome would be – which one are we going to see come back through the door?  And if you do it right the first time, you know, you may never see this family come back into the human services door again.

So would you problem solve this differently now with the increased emphasis by the state on quickness and documentation rather than effective practice?

Wehhhhl ?! (laughing and shrugging) that’s the challenge that I have. Those are the kind of cases that take time, and you need to slow down the process…not try to come up with the solution in isolation.

I would probably still take the same approach, but I think the pressure and feeling that I’m having is: what is going to happen to me? Because I’m not going to be able to keep up.  I’m not going to get my paperwork in on time perfectly.  And I’m nervous about my own family, my own ability to keep my job, keep my own insurance, to have some sustainability. But I realize that if I’m going to really make a change …or…try to support this family, I can’t approach it punitively.  I have to look at partnering and finding a solution that realistically is going to work.

That is what is making me feel burnt out and feeling like I don’t know if I want to do this job anymore. Because I just feel like that workplace environment and that culture that is happening right now…And I think that’s changing how people interact, and I’ve noticed that my workplace culture is shifting. I’m feeling somewhat isolated from my co-workers and somewhat more from my supervisor.  It brought certain pressures back on my supervisor, that the money and dollars and everything we do is going to be based on documented outcome versus practiced approach.  Now, I think my supervisor sees that we are up against quite an imbalance, and probably acting for self protection.  And now we don’t have a union rep that we can go to if we have an issue.  So, where do you draw your support from? 

What kind of things are going on with your local union?

Um, I probably can’t answer that because I know that the union has contacted me and I haven’t had a chance to have that dialogue, yet.  I didn’t feel like our union was very strong in the first place, but I value the need for unions.  And there was a reason we had them.  Would I voluntarily pay to be part of this union that I don’t necessarily respect, when I don’t think they are a very strong union or very cohesive union? (raises eyebrows, splays hands)

But like I said, I want to continue to have that dialogue with them (the union). I want to know – what are you going to continue to do? What role will you have?  If you were to ask if I support unions – yes, I believe that they need to exist.  So, if it were strong, yeah, then I don’t think I would hesitate. 

The first time we talked you predicted that when the BRB bill enacted a reduction in your check that you would be forced to take on a second job.  Have you had to take that route?

I have.  The question that everybody asks me is “How are you going to balance that with family and your current job?”  Because my current job goes beyond an 8-5, you know. There are nights that I work until 11:00 at night.  But I felt the need to take another job because I’m already feeling the impact.

(Megan’s partner is also a public worker.  Together, they have 3 children and are grappling with a $560/month loss in their household.)

Even with a second job, we are looking at it like, “Wow… how are we going to make it work?”  It’s increased stress and increased, um, lack of quality time to address how we are going to work through that stress.  I feel like I have more pressure on my shoulders, because I am the one who’s out working two jobs, um, but I don’t want to discredit him.  He’s got more pressures and picked up more responsibilities to meet the kids’ needs, you know.  He’s doing more of the pick up and drop offs for daycare, more of the single-parenting I’d say, because I am the one working two jobs.  So, that’s adding to stress…I feel (laughing and shrugging) guilt on my part because I’m feeling like I’m missing out…and that hurts.  And I’m feeling, you know, tired (looking down and shaking head). I’m missing my family, but I’m trying to work with families that are also having problems and trying to be attentive, available, present, and I’m struggling with that (shrugs and hugs body).

So.

So, what solutions do you see?  How do you see getting out of this situation for your family and the families that you work with?

(long pause, staring at the floor)  We need to undo what Walker did.  If those cuts go through – what are they (her clients) going to do?  I truly don’t know.  What is driving this philosophy?  Are you trying to punish these families?  How are we going to break the cycle if we are punitive toward the people who are trying to work their way up and we keep them down?  Parents are working multiple jobs, and children are left with their needs unmet.  I mean, what are we producing?  So the children are left suffering. That’s the vicious cycle that I see.  I think we need to keep finding an avenue to figure out how we can advocate, not just settling because we feel powerless.

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About half-way through this second interview with Megan, I noticed that I was speaking to a different woman.  Six months ago, she was a passionate advocate for the families with whom she partners.  Now, Megan’s concerns for her own family have taken priority.  Her careful, thoughtful approach to her profession is now overshadowed by her anxious needs closer to home.  If you were frustrated by the scattered nature of this verbatim interview – you’ve journeyed a few moments in her life.  Speaking with Megan reminded me of a pilot’s advice over the intercom of a commercial flight, “Please secure your own face mask before helping others.”  In Megan, we took someone who cares about others – but now, emotionally, she can’t afford to.  How do we measure that?

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5 Responses to WI Voices: A Social Worker (update)

  1. Brian says:

    This column has all along been pure left-wing propoganda. It’s a cyber tool to get you angry at Gov. Walker and make the left’s recall process more legit. The unions are continuing their temper tantrum for losing some power and expect everyone to sympathize with them. The simple fact is that the budget reform policies ARE working and because of it, we ALL, rich AND poor will benefit in the long run with more jobs being created, lower taxes, etc. BTW, you don’t recall an elected official for disagreeing with the policy they put in place, you recall them for something drastically serious like a crime. What a waste of time and money. What Wisconsin needs is recall reform!! I am NOT a rich Republican. My family is currently on BadgerCare due to unforeseen circumstances. However, I anticipate (and look forward to) that changing in the near future. So Democrats, stop acting like you always represent the poor working class. You sure don’t represent me. The government is not responsible for my success/failure – I am!

  2. Avatar of Mr.America Mr.America says:

    Brain,
    Why would you want to have your family be forced off of Badger Care. It sounds like you’d prefer that they go without medical treatment or be forced into bankruptcy. Neither options would be something I would choose for my family because I espoused a particular political ideology. Most people who are are on Badgercare are there for unforeseen circumstances. Those who concur with your philosophy seem to have little or no empathy for others. Perhaps you an Ayn Rand devotee? In my opinion if this is true you are following someone who is absolutely hideous in my opinion.
    http://youtu.be/0TxCWbTqz9s

  3. Scott says:

    Brian,

    First, I love how you get to define any perspective different from yours propaganda. So, if I hear you right, you speak the truth while the rest of us are just spewing lies to legitimate our lies. Which one sounds more paranoid? Really? Furthermore, Megan criticizes her union…hardly leftist propaganda. You might not like to hear the other side, but it exists. You might want to accept that rather than the typical, knee-jerk reaction of accusation instead of listening.

    Second, what do you call it when corporations cry foul at any increase in their taxes and threaten to pass on the increase to their consumers or to ship their jobs overseas. Are those tantrums, also? At least stay consistent in your argument.

    Third, it is not a “simple fact” that the budget bill is working. It is a simple fact that you want it to be a simple fact…but that’s about it. The actual facts are anything but simple. If anything, they’re complete hypotheticals leading to some fairyland you’ve chosen to believe in, where we’ll all be swimming in jobs with zero taxes. The truth is, we’ve been cutting corporate taxes since Reagan and we still find ourselves in this recession. It’s no panacea, and choosing to believe in it, despite the “simple facts”, is…well…just simple.

    Finally, there is nothing illegal or illegitimate about recalling our governor. If it was, the process wouldn’t be allowed. You might not believe in the reasoning, but that doesn’t make it illegitimate. Let me guess, you think our democracy makes us the greatest country in the world. But when you disagree with part of its process, you just want to shut it down. Again, stay consistent. This is part of what makes a democracy messy, but it’s still part of it. When our leaders pass radical bills that they NEVER ran on (look it up if you don’t believe me) then the people have the right and responsibility to be heard. Our leaders need to realize that they represent THE WHOLE state, not just their thin margin of constituents.

    As for your success/failure philosophy…that’s always been the biggest myth of the modern conservatives: that the rich always deserve what they have and so do the poor. It’s not that simple, no matter how much you want it to be.

  4. Celeste Koeberl says:

    Folks at the top of the income and wealth distribution know that where you end up has a lot to do with where you start out; and folks at the bottom believe much more than those at the top that there are equal opportunities to raise yourself up through your own hard work and merit (see, “The Values and Beliefs of the American Public” at http://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/153501.pdf).

    If you want more in depth factual information about the extremely skewed toward the top distribution of income and wealth in the U.S., here are some additional references:

    “15 Mind-Blowing Facts About Wealth And Inequality In America”, Business Insider, 7/16/10, at http://www.businessinsider.com/us-wealth-inequality-2010-7?op=1;

    “Inequality Is Most Extreme In Wealth, Not Income”, New York Times, 3/30/11, at http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/30/inequality-is-most-extreme-in-wealth-not-income/;

    “Trends in the Distribution of Household Income Between 1979 and 2007″, Congressional Budget Office, October 2011, at http://cbo.gov/ftpdocs/124xx/doc12485/10-25-HouseholdIncome.pdf;

    “Who Rules America”, G. William Domhoff, Sociology Dept. University of California at Santa Cruz, at http://cbo.gov/ftpdocs/124xx/doc12485/10-25-HouseholdIncome.pdf; and

    “Connect the Dots” at http://www.connectthedotsusa.com/

  5. gs says:

    Brian nailed it, this blog is nothing but left wing propoganda which apparently is gearing up again for a Walker recall.

    And Megan, you may have lost $600/month because of the BRB, but you still have a job. The company I worked for closed its doors with 4 hours notice.

    So prior to the BRB when union dues were taken from your paycheck you were okay with a “not very strong” union (whatever that means). And now, given the chance to voluntarily pay dues…it appears you don’t. Interesting.

    Why don’t you go to your boss and ask questions pertaining to the situations you are struggling with? I’ve done that many times in private, non-union companies and found it not only helpful for the job but helped strengthen the boss-worker relationship. You don’t need a 3rd party/union rep for work issues, just courage to ask and deal with the answers. And if that doesn’t help the situation, quit…I’m sure there are 3 or 4-hundred people out there who would apply for your position. North Dakota has a 3% unemployment rate and very high-paying, blue collar jobs.

    And get over the “Walker didn’t campaign on CB reform” whine….no politician has ever been honest. Walker didn’t go far enough, legislation needs to be passed to make this a right-to-work state.

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