Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Coming Around

                I got something today that every social worker needs: confirmation from a client that the work has generated some good – with evidence to back it up.

                It’s been a dull and down time here in street outreach. Not only is my personal energy low, and I’m lacking enthusiasm and even doubting my role. It’s also that my clients are going off the rails. It’s very distressing when one you take into your charge deteriorates, goes deeper into dysfunction, despite your efforts. Really makes you question if you’re doing what you ought to be doing.

                I know I have something to offer these young charges of mine. Only, I no longer believe it’s enough. I never have – in the sense that, I don’t know if anyone’s life is saved in being managed by another. It’s the learning and incorporation of self-management skills that ultimately seems to make the difference. But, a committed partner can be invaluable in mustering the energy, focus and persistence needed to develop these skills. And these days, sadly, I’m short of energy, on focus, and on persistence, even with regards to my personal issues. So how to shore up the reserves of spirit in another?

                The confirmation call I received today was from a young man I began working with about two and a half years ago. At that time, he was on the streets, drinking and smoking lots of pot (but doing no other drugs), panhandling, and being extremely bitter about every negative circumstance that came his way. He – I’ll call him Daniel – had the sort of entrenched mind set that peeled back the veneer of every good thing to focus on the encroaching rot that lie beneath.

                I won’t go into detail about Daniel’s ups and downs over the following months and years. But through a series of them, he somehow managed to recognize that much of what took place in his orbit was influenced by the decisions he made. He stopped seeing himself as the victim of malignant fate and began to make better choices, and to take responsibility for the poor ones he continued to make from time to time. He gradually got to the point of no longer needing the support of programs like mine. He found himself a compatible partner, moved into better housing, away from the downtown core, began to work.

                A few months ago, he contacted me to lend support. He was trying to get custody of children he’d never provided for, whom he’d hardly seen, but now felt ready to have in his life. He wanted a letter of support for the courts. This represented such a substantial change for Daniel. He’d grown out of his near total dependence and dysfunction, and then beyond mere survival. And he was now looking beyond his immediate needs, and wanting to provide something better for others he was ready to claim his rightful responsibility for.
                 The call from Daniel today was to announce he’d just come from court. He’s been granted shared custody of his children. He passed his last assessment by Children’s Aide, and will be able to have his kids in his home, without the supervision that had previously been required, every other weekend, every other Christmas. He was so happy and proud.
                And he said that he wanted me to know that the work I had done with him had made a difference. He said that he knows how much frustration there can be in my work – he’d caused enough of it himself. And now, he wanted to share his joy, his accomplishment, his success.
                What a gift. And for that, the job will weigh a little lighter tomorrow.


  1. You're so right--you can't, by yourself, effect change in someone else. But that doesn't mean you don't have effect. Being a hero is about being the right person in the right place at the right time.

  2. Thank you, Lucie. Yes, timing, rhythm, flow. These become more significant to me all the time.