Monday, January 29, 2018

Reflections on Ten Years in Social Work

It’s been a couple of years since I exited the social work scene. Upon reflection of my 10 years in the field, I am glad I experienced it. However, I am also relieved to be out. Here are some reflections from those 10 years.

My first two plus years were working with abused and neglected children at a home called Coyote Hill Christian Home as a parent aide located in Harrisburg, MO. The work was, at times, emotionally draining, as some of the children would not listen to soberly (e.g. gently), but firmly stated instructions. However, this is, in most instances, to be expected due to their pasts they were working to overcome. Sometimes you would have some words tossed at you that would be bleeped on network television. Not as often, but every now and again you would have objects thrown at you or you would have to follow a kid who decided to run away.
However, there were a network of homes (three at that time) you could call upon to come help if need be. Moreover, there were licensed counselors on site more often than not (or they were on call) who would assist in emergency situations. Plus, the kids received regular medical checkups and, if needed, received psychological treatment. Plus, each home usually had a church family supporting them. All in all, there was significant support.
I could relate with the kids and teens that had ADHD, because I have that as well (predominately-inattentive). There were also a couple of kids that I was blessed to pray with to receive Christ. However, at that time, the job did not offer medical insurance for parent aides, which was a downside. That being said, overall, it was a good experience and I appreciated the work, but I needed to be closer to the city, so I got a job in Columbia, MO instead of having to drive a half a hour to Harrisburg.
Next, I worked at Woodhaven Learning Center, with mentally disabled (e.g. retardation, but they don’t really use that term anymore) individuals that were adults. I worked here for eight years and even managed to make employee of the month for February of 2014.[1] I was able to stay on longer here because they did offer medical insurance and the job worked out really well for when I was getting my undergrad and also my masters. I was “Weekend Relief” so that meant I worked straight through on the weekend from 10:30pm Friday to 10:30pm Sunday night at Courtyard Apartments in Columbia. At this Individual Supportive Living (ISL) placement, there were 6-7 individuals that we cared for. Each one suffered from mild to moderate kinds of mental and emotional disabilities. Like Coyote Hill, they received great support from staff at all levels. Of course, some staff were better than others. However, I would say most were at par or above.
Each individual was unique and had their own apartment designing it (or lack thereof) how they wanted within reason. My favorite individual was a blind man named Harold. He was really one of a kind, a saint, and yet a troublemaker. His sense of humor was matchless and yet his mood could change for the worse, but not really putting anybody in danger, just stubborn. He really liked dogs and one of my co-workers would let him go over to their house to see their ankle biter dog named “Mackie” on most weeks. He would always talk about Mackie, want to go see Mackie, etc. Moreover, Harold would always be trying to start a DVD or a tape in his room to listen to. Of course, being blind, he was at an immense disadvantage. However, he usually figured out how to start the DVD, but sometimes he didn’t and I would be left with trying to figure out how he got his TV on some sort of setting that I had never seen before. He had a neighbor friend, who was also a resident that I also served, that he would eat supper with every Saturday night. They would always listen to Lawerence Welk show on PBS. Harold often had to tell his friend what to do (controlling) and a couple of times it got so bad that Harold had to eat alone, but he would apologize (eventually). He loved to eat and no matter how much he ate he really did not gain that much weight. Good metabolism I guess.
Harold and his friend were also door greeters at Rebecca and I’s wedding in April of 2009. They did a good job and Harold really enjoyed the cake after the wedding was done. Of course, my boss, who was filling in for me on my weekend off, had to sit next to Harold to keep him out of trouble and also to keep him company.
Sadly, Harold passed away in Dec of 2013. For what reasons, we don’t know. He was not under Woodhaven’s care at the time as he was in the hospital and then was transferred to a short-term stay nursing home getting physical therapy. I will never forget the call I placed to my boss inquiring on how Harold was doing and he informed me that he passed away that morning despite them trying to revive him. I am still perplexed (and somewhat angered) an autopsy was not done, but, how I understand it, that was the family’s choice. However, as a Christian, I believe I will see Harold again.
After Harold passed, it was really not the same working at Woodhaven. Yes, there were still good times. However, the distance in driving and a really toxic co-worker really made me keep a promise to Rebecca to have a job closer to home. So in Oct of 2015 I said goodbye to social work and went back to retail temporarily. Then I went into Christian apologetics (though not solely just apologetics) full-time, but that is another story for another day.
All in all, I had more good than bad in my social work adventures. The pay was never that great, but, as they made it clear in classes dealing with social work, you don’t do it for the money. Plus, your salary, to a large extent, was attached to the state budget which if the mental health division of the state did not receive a funding increase, then your potential living wage raise increase went down the toilet. However, I do have a more appreciation for mental disabilities now, personally and academically. Many Christian apologists would be wise to study this area, at least the basics (e.g. help develop empathy). However, I don’t buy that all of the issues the individuals are dealing with is nature and nurture, but there is a spiritual element as well.
 Hopefully I left at least a somewhat positive impression upon those I served. They sure left an impression upon me and I will carry that for the rest of my days. I pray they are well and will visit some of them soon.

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