Insider Tips to Get Social Service
Don't Call on Mondays and Six Other Hints
I spent the majority of my career as a community social worker in Los Angeles at the Pico Robertson Storefront, a multipurpose senior center providing services from transportation to care management.
I know from experience the relationship between social service provider and client is complex. You come to us in a time of need with emotions ranging from fear and sadness to guilt and anxiety. We also may experience strong emotions, being overwhelmed, overworked and under-appreciated. This collision of feelings can sometimes cause friction.
Faced with the challenge of caregiving - or the prospect of it - you may wonder why you should even stop to consider the social worker's point of view. Simple: This is a relationship. As in all relationships, when you stop to examine the other person's point of view, it will go more smoothly. And as in caregiving, you'll encounter great trials and hardships but also great joys, love and growth. When we take the time and energy to create relationships with other caregivers, we receive not only service but also friendship.
Here are my insider's tips for making the most of your dealing with social service agencies and providers.
1. Try not to call on Mondays unless you have an emergency. Community social workers arrive at the office facing an answering machine blinking "27 messages." The phone rings at 8:30 with frantic caregivers who have endured the weekend with a crisis looming. Unless you have an emergency, you may be better served calling another day.
2. Be prepared. Most agencies are going to ask for basic information about your care recipient, such as name, date of birth, address, Social Security number and insurance details.
3. Take notes, detailing whom you talked to, when and the information discussed. List action steps, deadlines and the responsible party for each task.
4. Accept agency rules and regulations. Agencies are bureaucracies, structured to provide service to many people in a fair and documented way. In addition, funding sources often dictate their rules and regulations. The bottom line is, yes, the rules are often dumbfounding, frustrating and even infuriating. But the worker on the phone can do little about them. When you rail against the system, you waste valuable time you could better put to use discussing the ways the worker and the agency can help you and your family.
5. Don't be afraid to work with an intern. Many social service agencies have them. Interns gain invaluable experience working in real-life situations. Personally, I loved working with interns because they reminded me of why I became a social worker. What they lack in experience they more than make up for in optimism and energy. Experienced people in the agency supervise them and their cases. I would go one step beyond recommending you accept an intern: Ask for one!
6. Adopt a team approach. Make it clear you see the social service agency as a part of your care plan. Remain involved in all aspects of the case. Workers in social service agencies often have tremendous caseloads. I carried 40 cases at a time as well as a day of phone intake and therapy. It was important to me to know the caregiver saw me as one of many resources, including family members. If you are unable to be involved as a caregiver, hire a private geriatric care manager.
7. Say "thank you." A note of thanks meant a great deal to me. I know many social workers keep notes from families expressing their appreciation to read again when work becomes difficult. Like most social workers, I choose this field because I wanted to make a difference - to provide service. When a family member acknowledges I have, it is a tremendous gift.
The reality of working with a social service agency is that you are one of many families it serves with limited budgets and staff. Everything you do to recognize the situation will bring the help you need for you and your family.