Friday, November 6, 2009


Today I got to sit in on the Adoption Team Unit Meeting, which was hysterical, to say the least. Those women (and their token male colleague) are a hoot! They are planning a holiday party in December for their foster children and prospective families, and I got talked into teaching the kids dances like the macarena and electric slide. LOL! :) I am also helping to plan the crafts, which will be lotsa fun.

Next Monday, I will be going on 3 home visits and one finalization! Then on Friday, I will finally be able to see selection staffings!! This is when everybody (case managers, adoption specialists, guardian ad litem, foster parent, etc) gets together to select the best family for a child. This is on my learning plan so I am glad that I will be able to see how involved the match process it. I will also be attending a Life Book event in the afternoon with some of the foster kids. You can read all about life books here - I'm too hungry to explain.

Then, Nov. 20 is NATIONAL ADOPTION DAY, and we have a big event going on at the County Courthouse. Lots of foster care adoption finalizations that day. WOOHOO!


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bridges out of Poverty

Today I attended a training titled Bridges out of Poverty. The training was developed by Ruby Payne and colleagues at aha! process, inc. The piece of poverty that this training focuses on is the economic piece, which is certainly a big part but doesn't cover everything. The economic status of someone is only one thread of their quilt, ya know? There are many other threads that make up that quilt - age, marital status, sexual orientation, location, gender, religion, race, etc.

We talked mainly about generational poverty, which is when poverty exists in a family from generation to generation. Situational poverty, which we are definitely seeing a lot more of today, is when a situation - death, divorce, unemployment, depression, drugs, disability, etc - put you in poverty.

We talked about the mental model of poverty. A mental model is your perception, how you view something. As we know, everyone sees things differently. We might look at someone and think they are poor, but in reality they may be quite happy with their situation. Hell, you might view a couple who looks rich and think they have it made, when in fact they might be the most unhappiest people in the room. Don't judge a book by the cover. Plain and simple.

To check how our perceptions were different, we took the words Love, Religion, Celebration and Divorce and drew a picture representation. We all had different pictures. For divorce, someone drew a broken heart, and someone else drew a smiley face! This was a prime example at how we all view things differently, and if you are not on the same page with your client, you will be completely useless to them. There was an example of a social worker who had a poor family of 5 on her caseload. They didn't have a refrigerator - they used Styrofoam coolers. So, without telling the family, the social worker set up a fund raiser so she could buy them a fridge. And she did just that. A week after delivering this gracious gift to them, she called to check in and couldn't reach them. A month went by before she heard from the family, and when she asked where they had been, they told her they went to visit their sick mother/grandmother. The social worker asked them how the heck they were able to afford that (in another state, had crappy car, etc). Can you guess what their answer was? They sold the fridge! The social worker was completely shocked at their response and asked why they did that. They simply said that visiting this sick relative was far more important than a fridge could ever be. So, the social worker should have asked this family what was important to them and what they needed, because what the social worker thought they needed was not something the family thought they needed.

So to get on the same page about poverty, we looked at the mental model. Guess what's at the center of the Mental Model for Poverty? RELATIONSHIPS. Social workers know the importance of relationships, as it is part of our Social Work values. It is no surprise that people are social animals and need to have relationships with others to feel secure, have support/resources, etc. Trusting relationships are the key to motivating someone to change. Building trust with your client can possibly be one of the hardest things you have to do with them, but once that trust is solid, the helping relationship will blossom and you will be able to effectively assist your client in the change process.

I learned an interesting tidbit. People in generational poverty do not have a future orientation. They live in the here and now. All their priorities are right now. Whatever is needed at that moment. This is very different from how the middle class views life - we are very future oriented! We save money, when we can, and think about our futures - education, family, retirement, etc. The generational poor don't go there - what is the point?

This brings me to a very interesting argument. If a mother of 3 is eligible for Medicaid, WIC, Food Stamps, etc., but loses it all if she gets a $6/hr job (which won't pay for squat) - what the heck is her motivation to work? What is the point of stressing herself out over a bullshit job, wondering if she is going to get fired for missing work every time one her children gets sick, feeling completely exhausted at the end of the day and then having to care for the children. The list goes on. YES - a lot of us work, and work hard, and then come home to work for our families, but I think those who are reading this blog are living comfortably from their efforts, and while we all certainly have stress - it is usually not at the level of the poor.

"The need to act overwhelms any willingness people have to learn." If someone is always stressed out and having to constantly worry about the NOW - what will my children eat for breakfast, how will they get to school, how will I get to work, what if I miss my bus connection and I'm late and get fired, what if something happens to my children when they are home alone - they are never going to be able to take the time to reflect and learn. Never. Can you imagine feeling like that 247? I moan and complain when I have one night of insomnia due to an upcoming test or big event. I can't imagine constantly having those dreadful feelings in my head.

Wanna know what is at the center of the Mental Model for Middle Class? ACHIEVEMENT. Surprised? I wasn't. Guess what's at the center for the Wealthy? CONNECTIONS. Again - not surprised. The middle class has future orientation, CHOICES and power. This does not exist for those in poverty. The Mental Model of Generational Poverty describes life from a Concrete Perspective. These people tell it like it is. There are no abstract thoughts - thinking of going to college, thinking of becoming successful - there is only concrete thinking. Tell it like it is. What you see is what you get.

Anyway - there is so much more to say but I'm hungry! What I really took away from this training was pretty much what I've already been taught in my social work classes: Start where the client is. If you get on the same page with them, and see their story through their eyes, your helping relationship is bound to be effective in some way. If you think the client needs X, Y and Z services, but all they want from you is a clean pair of socks - then that is what you give them.

And to end this post - check out this documentary called The End of Poverty?