Friday, April 06, 2007

Working for Idiots

Everyone of you will have to do this at one point or another... UNFORTUNATELY.

This happens when you come up as front-line and are used to working with the target population that you're working with and you get a manager who has been removed from the frontline for years or is just not compassionate anymore.

You will try to voice your concerns and ideas and they will listen because they're being politically correct; but nothing will change.

I advocate being sneaky. Find the loop holes in your contract; job description etc... broaden you program requirements to include people who were previously excluded...even if it's a stretch. Always be prepared to explain and back it up! It prevents you from losing your job and make sure it's explainable to funders because they ultimately decide if you can continue your program.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Breaking into the field

It's All About WHO You Know!

When you're trying to get into the Social Service field it's important that you utilize all of your connections: ones you made during field placements, academic advisors/ supervisors, professors etc.

The world of Social Services is much smaller than you think... which is both, good and bad. If you mess up, EVERYONE will know, but if you are a good, strong worker everyone will know that as well... so it works in your favour.

When you're first starting out, it MIGHT be necessary to take on small jobs... part-time, contracts, summer jobs, ANYTHING to get your foot in the door. Think about what part of the population you want to work in and find an entry level job in your field. It works! It's the best way to prove that you can do that job and to gain experience and contacts.

Once you have your foot in the door, NETWORK like you have never NETWORKED before! It's critical to your success in this field. Talk to people, create opportunities to discuss your accomplishments, make yourself visible and work hard.

When your contract is running out or you're looking to move on, contact the people you have networked with and let them know, CASUALLY, that you're looking for work.

Once you have secured a position close to what you're looking for, don't drop back down. If you make supervisor, STAY THERE (unless you're switching populations); if you drop back down, it's like saying that you feel that you're only qualified for the lower position. Maintain your status because it says a lot about your capabilities!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Let me re-visit the topic of self-care for a minute:
When I told you that smoking weed MIGHT help you; I wasn't adovcating the use of illegal drugs... What I'm saying is that if it ever comes down to you being so stressed that it seems overwhelming and nowhere close to manageable, you might want to try it.
Like I said, some people exercise, sing, dance or whatever so that they can relax; but, for others that doesn't always work and it DEPENDS on the situation.
You, as a caring and committed worker, need to figure out what works best for you (without harming your ability to work with clients).

I hope you all understand what I am trying to say here. YOUR mental, physical and emotional health must always come first and YOU have to do WHATEVER best suits you to ensure you don't burn out.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Stress and You!

Stress is your worst enemy in this field! Take care of yourself!
Let me be very clear; stress can kill you and it's your responsibility to take the steps necessary to ensure that you protect yourself and care for yourself!

In the field of Social Services you deal with the most vulernable segments of our population and they all have a story; they are all people with a past, present and future and if you chose this career because you actually want to help and you have a heart, you will feel stressed and overwhelmed.

We all think that it won't happen to us, especially when we're new to the field, but I'm telling you, from personal experience, that it can happen to you and it'll creep up and swallow you if you're not careful.

You will also feel stressed by managers and supervisors; you will be sure that some technique or program could benefit your clients, but you will face opposition, frustration and political correctness from your superiors. It can burn you out!

So now you're faced with stress from clients, stress from managers, FRUSTRATION and your own personal issues and personal life. You KNOW it's too much for YOU ALONE!

So, now that I've sounded very negative, let me tell you what I suggest:
1. Ensure that you have excellent supervision: Refuse to work for unsupportive, unqualified people. If you accept jobs where supervision is lacking, you will never be paid enough money to deal with everything on your own and you will leave this job and it will be very hard for you because you will already be attached.
2. Maintain boundaries that you are comfortable with: There's so much talk about professional boundaries and people say they're set in stone, but the reality is you need to set what works for you. I WILL TELL YOU ONE RULE TO SET AND ABIDE BY: NEVER, EVER, for any reason, give a client or community members your HOME phone number.
3. Make sure you continue to do what brings you joy... ASIDE from work. You may think work is fulfilling and enjoyable and you may still really love it, but YOU MUST maitain your personal life and personal activities. It's relaxing and nobody is ASKING you for your time, your self, your advice... you are doing it to refill your reserves!
4. When it feels like it's too much and you're losing sleep... TALK TO SOMEONE who understands.
5. Try not to let it bother you. And, if you find you're often outraged by your work, maybe a pro-active approach to the problem is needed: activism, changing jobs etc.
6. Stay relaxed. For some people exercise is what does it; others it's camping or spending time with friends and family and for others it's pot. Yes, I said it, WEED. You'd be surprised at how many workers in social services smoke weed to calm down, relax and objectively evaluate their roles and the situations of clients and their approaches etc. Don't brag about using it, but I'm telling you HONESTLY, a lot of people smoke it and it helps keep some people focused. Don't EVER do it at work... EVER, but at night, when you're at home and feeling overwhelmed or stressed and you're at your wits end... might wanna give it a try.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Working within the system to affect positive change?

Working within the system to create positive change seems like a lot of sneaky work, for very little payoff.
Let me give you an example from the agency that I am currently working in:
Community workers here are very aware of the fact that the police cause a lot of problems, and they are aware of the names of the officers involved in rumours, robbery, assaults, racism, sexism, slander etc. but they don't do anything.

In fact, the centre remains very close with the Police because they can help the centre get the funding it needs; free space for program/workshop use; free food; letters of support etc. HOW RIDICULOUS IS THIS?!

And these people claim that working within the system is effective and does create positive change. WHAT ABOUT just standing up and letting people speak their minds; voice concerns; give names; go to the media; etc? Why is everyone so HUSH HUSH here?

How can they call themselves community developers when they're kissing the ass of the cops? I know that not ALL cops are crooked or corrupt, but those that are should be faught against. We should be submitting reports, helping community members submit reports, going to the media, stirring the pot and forcing change! If nobody forces change, will it ever happen?

There are a bunch of questions on Yahoo! Questions that deal with corruption and misconduct and police accountability and most people don't WANT to believe that the people they expect to serve and protect can be corrupt. In fact, most people FLAT OUT REFUSE to believe these facts! People have all kinds of politically correct suggestions to increase police accountability but the reality is, without pressure from us, they will not be held accountable. Cops get suspended WITH pay... UNLESS it hits the media and they have to act!

To the new generation on social workers, social service workers, community workers, youth workers, etc. I urge you to RAISE HELL! I urge you to find an agency with balls big enough to take on politicians, police and any others committing injustice... otherwise you MAY end up being part of the problem. Counselling people for problems that originated and remain in society will not help the cause... the systems need to be restructured to include all people equally and until this time, we will continually be provding band-aid solutions!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Corrupt police... what do you do?

The other night, a youth called me to tell me taht he was robbed for all of his money (close to $10, 000)... He was frantic and very upset. I asked who stole it and he told me the POLICE STOPPED HIM, SEARCHED HIM AND TOOK HIS MONEY! This youth does have quite a reputation in this city but the cop took his money and gave him his business card with the follwoing remarks: "prove to me how you go it and I'll give it back". This is NOT THE FIRST TIME that this has happened... and each time he can't prove how he got the money so I guess that officer gets rich!

My understanding is that unless you are arrested your posessions remain yours. If the officer had arrested this youth his money could have been confiscated and would have been given to the courts and they would have decided if the money was considered a: Proceeds of a Crime and they would keep the money OR b: it's his money, give it back in full. I am not sure that undercover officers are given the authority to do what the courts are in place to do.

When incidents like this occur, I ALWAYS offer to back-up the youth. We look for means by which to attack the problem and we always begin professionally and I try to make them aware or the potential problems to reporting (NOT TO DISCOURAGE THEM, ubt to make sure they don't go in blind!): increased police harassment, more charges added on IF they get arrested again (but will be beat in court)... and I encourage them to COOPERATE fully if they are stopped, questioned or searched after this happens. EVEN if the search is illegal, let them do it, make sure people are watching and then we'll report that together as well! I always tell them to get the officer's NAME AND BADGE NUMBER because POLICE OFFICERS ARE REQUIRED TO PROVIDE YOU WITH THAT INFORMATION.

The Police want a better relationship with the communities and with youth but look at how they treat them. EVEN IF this youth is not doing all the right things... the officer STOLE his money but it gets worse than that! Officers in this city beat up youth, rob them, kidnap them and drop them far from their homes etc. AND NOTHING IS BEING DONE! In fact, they do all in the power to keep their IMAGE positive and to silence communities. Chances are, if a youth has not been harassed, robbed or beaten by the police... THEY KNOW SOMEONE WHO HAS and as a result, a strong positive relationships will be hard to build.

It is going to take a group of MOTIVATED and PROFESSIONAL officers to come in and clean-up after all of the CORRUPT and VIOLENT officers who claim to be GANG SPECIALISTS, or YOUTH SPECIALISTS... THE POLICE ARE THE MOST VIOLENT AND LUCRATIVE GANGS THAT THIS CITY HAS EVER SEEN!

Youth are NOTORIOUS for REACTING... They have reacted to the injustice, poverty, racism, pressure and violence. NOW WHAT?

Workshop postponed

I had originally said that I would post the minutes of the workshop we were planning but it has been postponed by no fault of our own. Another agancy and the Police are putting on a workshop with a similar name, but different scope; nobody informed us of this (not even the police we work with) so we expect registration to have been harmed; the Police expressed some concerns about our presentation=> they were concerned that the police may end up embarassed and that it may turn into a bashing session...

Needless to say, we are planning a date in May 2007!

Individuality and Understanding pt.1

Individuality and Understanding:
Separate the youth from their behaviour
i. Studies show that youth who are engaging in anti-social behaviour/crime, will not generally engage in it unless provoked or with their peer group.
ii. Know that not all things work for all people; all approaches do not work for all youth. This requires some trial and error. A very brilliant professor once told me: “when working with youth, it’s not about the mistakes you make… It’s about how you recover from them”
iii. Not all youth want your involvement in their lives. Understand and accept that but remain available should they need your assistance.

For more information on youth's need to be treated as an individual, please enter this term in the search box above: The Youth Social Imaging Project Overview
~ This is a research study done on youth in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
** A very important practice principle!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Consistancy and Predictability

Consistency and Predictability:
From my experience, I have found that the younger the youth is at first contact, the easier it is to maintain contact and build a trusting relationship; regardless of whether or not the youth is engaging in negative behaviour. In order to accomplish this, there must be a low worker-turnover rate, which most communities do not have.
Sibling’s of older youth can be your greatest allies.
Little kids love to talk about new people and will generally go home and say your name a bunch of times to other siblings and parents and friends. Once your name is spoken often enough in the home, most youth become curious and start trying to figure out who you are, why you’re around and what you’re like. They will start to ask their peers and will casually ask younger kids or others that attend programs with you. Use this to your advantage.
When an older sibling comes to pick up a younger one, try to make contact: introduce yourself (your first name is sufficient) in a youth friendly manner: “Hey. My name’s yyy.” And then offer a handshake and don’t push it any further: YOU ARE STILL A STRANGER TO THEM.
Acknowledge youth when you see them outside of the program. It’s not OK to talk to them inside the program but when you see them in the neighbourhood you ignore them. You’re doing this for no other reason than to acknowledge their existence.
Do this every time you see them (not 100 times in a day) but each day that you see them acknowledge them or if they’re outside before the program and then again after the program; acknowledge them both times.
Eventually, you will get the opportunity to ask them a question: if it’s winter “You’re not cold?” is a pretty good icebreaker because there’s the opportunity for you to use humour; which is a good icebreaker.
This also opens the lines of communication and gives the youth the opportunity to be nice.
Predictability helps to create a climate of comfort between you and the youth.
This requires you to be prepared, creative and consistent when enforcing rules.
It’s critical that the youth understand the rules and consequences for breaking them.
They need to know which offences they will be kicked out for and the duration of their removal, when they will be refused entry and they need to know at what point the police will be called. Be prepared to outline it to them in detail…also be prepared to explain why these rules have been put into place:

1. Protection of other participants (can frame in terms of family)
a. Not letting a drunk youth into programs: explain that if that person’s little brothers/ sisters were in the program would they want me to let in a drunk person? The answer is usually NO, or a smart reply “I don’t have any brothers/ sisters”, at which point you say cousins, or any other little people they care about.

2. Refusal to accept disrespect
a. Nobody should have to put up with disrespect and explain that you are unwilling to accept disrespectful behaviour directed at you or others. It’s just not acceptable. Period.

3. Property damage
a. If you intentionally ruin items not belonging to you, you are not welcome in the program because of disrespect.
b. INCLUDED GRAFFITI and DEFACING PROPERTY. Each week in the summer I would go into the community with paint and cover up any and all graffiti I could find. Some of it was identified by younger kids, when this happened they would come out and help me paint over it or wash it off. This not only sent a clear message that I, personally, would not tolerate vandalism, but it also taught the younger kids that it’s not ok. If I knew who did the vandalism, I went to them as a real person and asked what I’m in the neighborhood for: I’m fighting with them, to help improve the image of the community and they go and do ridiculous things like this. Some responded well and others didn’t, but my point was made.

4. Program disruption
a. Majority of youth came to participate in some form, if this youth didn’t, pull them aside and tell them they’re being disruptive and most people are participating and they are ruining it for people… so they either participate or leave. No other options.

5. Showing up for scheduled shifts and programs increases the youth’s trust in you and their ability to feel that they can depend on you.

6. Be consistent with your commitment to the youth.
a. If you told them you would accomplish something by the following week, accomplish it.
b. Make sure that what you commit to, is something that you CAN commit to; that you have space for in your life, in your schedule (requires self-awareness and self-care).
i. If you can’t do something, be honest. Tell them that you don’t have time right now. They will respect you more for being honest, even if, at the time, they are disappointed.

7. Make yourself visible and accessible to youth. Find a way to make time for a youth in crisis or for a youth who is approaching you for the first time.
a. Many of today’s youth live with a lot of pressure and constant stress; when they reach the breaking point, consider it an emergency if they come to you.

8. The longer you are able to stick it out in the community or with the youth, the more respect you will earn as a worker. You will be seen as someone who is very committed and dependable. Try not to leave just because it gets hard. The youth will know that it’s a turbulent time and if you are able to stick it out, you are not only modeling positive behaviour, you are proving that you actually care… that it’s not ‘just a job’. This requires a lot of support and self-care!!