I grew up the middle child; a girl between two boys. Needless to say I was a bit of a tomboy. I climbed trees, played pirate and even fished ( if one of my brothers baited my hook). So…not SUCH a tomboy.
Another activity I loved was skipping rocks. My older brother was very good at this. But, It took me a while to learn the proper rock-skipping-process. But I will share with you FREE OF CHARGE!
Rock choice played a major role: the flatter the rock, the better to skip. I would search for the flattest rocks, so that I could get more “skips” than my brothers. Because at that age EVERYTHING was a competition. Almost as important as the chosen rock was the wrist motion. Because, even a flat rock won’t skip if it is just chunked into the water (lesson learned from previous chunking attempts followed by ridicule of said evil brothers). The wrist had to be turned sideways, parallel to the ground so that the rock could be propelled with no arch. I would pinch the flat rock between my thumb and pointer…draw back..and fling the rock. If everything was done correctly, the rock would skim the surface of the lake, touching water (skipping) a few times only to become airborne again until it finally landed in the water with a small plop.
If you have skipped rocks, you know the feeling of elation when you achieve more than three skips!! (Especially if your brother only got two).
Although I don’t regularly skip rocks anymore. I do still like to sit on the bank of the lake. When I am content, the peacefulness of a smooth, calm lake whispers soft assurances to my soul that all is well. When I am angry or frustrated, I become jealous of the glass-like facade and find myself chunking pebbles into the water in an effort to expel my frustration. Interestingly, watching the pebbles hit the placid water and the change that one simple action creates, usually causes me to stop and marvel at the sight.
When an object ( large or small ) hits the surface of the lake, ripples occur. Even light raindrops create multiple tiny ripples all over the lake, which can mesmerize me as I watch the unfolding scene. Larger objects, like pebbles cause larger, longer lasting ripples, widening and gliding across the water until stopped by an unyielding source (often the bank).
Social work is a noble calling. View it as a vast and thriving lake. The practice of social work brings food, shelter, protection and well being to the families who “live” around it. Those who choose this path do so out of an inner commitment to make a difference.
But not all families accept what the lake has to offer. They refuse the sustenance offerred. Some families give lip service to change but do not follow through. It can be unfathomable why when led to life-giving resources, some people will not partake and actually turn away. This can be very frustrating to social workers. Because their job is more like a vocation, Social Workers can become very disappointed when they are not able to facilitate real change . After a while, like a lake in a drought, they can become stagnate. Reeling from a series of “failures” they can lose their drive, afraid that they are not making a difference.
How do you churn up stagnate water?
Encouragement: from their peers, their supervisor, even their director can go a long way to move stagnation caused by losses.
Encouragement is like a shiny pebble chunked into the lake. As soon as that pebble hits the surface of the water, the ripples begin. And just as the ripples begin as tiny concentric circles and grow larger, expanding on all sides; so does an encouraging word spread throughout the program. Vague, insincere comments, much like false praise is not effective. The “good job” or the “att-a-boys” do not encourage and can, in fact, cause resentment if delivered in an insincere manner.
Strong encouragement is specific and timely, delivered with a genuine heart.
Lorey had been working with a foster child (Beth) for 6 months. Beth had run away from her home when she was 14 years old due to molestation by her mother’s boyfriend. She lived on the streets for a few months before she was lured into trafficking by her new boyfriend (pimp) Pete. When she was 16, she overdosed on opioids and was rushed to the hospital. The ER doctor recognized the signs of trafficking and called DHR. Beth came into care, was placed in a group home and was lucky enough to draw Lorey as her social worker. Angry, traumatized and scared, Beth closed herself off to everyone. Lorey was not that easily dissuaded. She saw her weekly as she attempted to establish rapport with Beth. Lorey’s strongest weapon was consistently showing up. After a month, Beth started slowly lowering her walls. She began opening up to Lorey: about her mom, her step-dad, her pimp and her use of drugs to “make it all go away”. The information helped Lorey to assess Beth’s underlying issues and work with her to create a vision of a better future for her, including services and supports to achieve that vision. All was progressing according to their plan. Beth was in school, working part time at a local retail shop and actually excited about an upcoming dance. She had been moved from the group home into a foster home and appeared to be adjusting well. Then, one night, the foster mother went in to wake her for school and Beth (along with her clothes, purse and some personal items) were gone. She had run away.
Lorey took the news hard. She felt like a failure. What had she missed? Why did Beth leave when everything had been going so well? Lorey wondered what she could have done differently. Her supervisor knew how much time, effort and care Lorey had put into Beth’s case. She saw Lorey struggle with disappointment and self doubt. She had heard Lorey say, ” she was done trying so hard when it didn’t matter.” The truth was a pebble in the hand of the supervisor. What would she do with it.? Their were two paths the supervisor could take. Let’s play each one out.
The supervisor called Lorey into her office. She remarked how she realized that Beth running away was unfortunate and caused Lorey some frustration. However, she reminded Lorey that she couldn’t let that setback stop her from working her other cases. Lorey would have to shake it off and get back in the game. The supervisor reminded the social worker of the unit expectation around narrative and the consequences of late submissions.
The supervisor went to Lorey’s office. She told Lorey that she knew how hard it was to understand when clients fall backward despite our collaboration and hard work. The supervisor invited Lorey to talk about her feelings of disappointment and failure…and then listened. She normalized the feelings and recounted that she had experienced similar incidents as a worker. The supervisor validated the engagement, partnering and mentoring that she had observed from Lorey in Beth’s case. She also told Lorey, that the seeds she planted with Beth remained with her and encouraged her not to give up on the child. Finally, the supervisor remarked to Lorey that she had other teens in her caseload that were responding very well to her interventions and sometimes it helped to remind herself of the good she was doing.
It is important to remember that both supervisors had the pebble of truth. They just chose different ways to use it.
In the first scenario, the supervisor did make an impact on Lorey. She returned to her office, resentful at being chastised, realizing that her supervisor had no idea how hard she worked or the committment she had to her clients. She knew she would keep going because this job was her calling. But, she was determined not to get so invested in her foster kids.
In scenario 2…when the supervisor left her office, Lorey sat for a while thinking about her supervisors words. She still felt sad about Beth’s decision, but realized it was not due to her intervention. Validated by the encouragement of her supervisor, Lorey felt satisfaction in the fact that her work was getting positive attention. While not the driving force of her dedication to clients…still nice to hear. Lorey resolved not to let Beth’s decision effect her focus with her other foster children. And though she was afraid of what could happen to Beth on the street, she refused to give up hope. She created and sent out a Protective Service Alert to the state ( a ” be on the look out report”) and picked up another foster child,( Anna’s) file to schedule a visit.
Now which supervisor are you?
You are standing on the banks of a mighty lake with a shiny pebble in your hand. The pebble is the “truth” of the situation and is often multi-faceted and complex. What do you do with this pebble of truth? The power is yours. The decision is yours. Do you skip it, making tiny brief impacts in the workers who look to you for guidance, support and leadership? Or do you chunk it purposefully, creating ripples of encouragement that will gain momentum and spread throughout your unit?.
The choice can be empowering. The outcome can be amazing.