March 01, 2006

Childfree In Social Service

There are constant statements thrown around my workplace regarding, "we must help the children", "we are here for childen", etc. When I first started working for the agency, I assumed that most employees had children because the very nature of the work that's done here is child-centric. Slowly, I noticed that more than a few, including some upper management employees, do not have children, and do not plan to have any.

The fact that so many childfree people are social workers further shuts down the theory that all childfree people hate children. Those that can't tolerate children in any shape or form are not willingly going to get a degree in social work and come work in such an agency. I do think that those social workers who opt not to have children have made the decision based on what they have learned about parenting and child psychology. They have weighed all of the pros and cons and come to a solid conclusion for themselves. They have also made the decision based on what they witness every day, especially if they provide direct service to clients.

Of those in social work who do have children, I find myself in non-agreement with them concerning how to deal with negative behaviors in children, as well as setting boundaries. They appear to use the same "Let's give Johnny options and allow him to express himself no matter how he does that" rule that they use with their clients. I remember my boss telling me that he had been spanked once as a child. He never told me why, but the look on his face told me that whatever he had done must have been a major infraction. The conversation came up after I had been insulted--over the phone--by a couple of the kids who live on the premises via a prank call they had done over a weekend.

After I played the offending message back to my boss, I told him, "I don't appreciate that, and I will not be disrespected by these kids here." The staff members who work with those two kids assured me they had admonished them for their actions. I never received an apology from the perpetrators directly, however. My boss attempted to apologize for them, but I told him point blank, "You can't apologize for someone else's stupidity." In my opinion, the kids got the equivalent of a slap on the wrist, especially when I discovered they had been prank calling other places that day as well. It also didn't help that my boss felt that I should just drop the matter as if it was nothing. The message they left--complete with a racial epithet--was offensive to me. It warranted more action than just having a stern talk with the perpetrators. "You don't negotiate with kids, you don't make deals with them, you don't argue with them. You punish them properly when they do not act right," I snapped at my boss.

I often feel that those of us who don't work directly with the kids--the support staff, the maintenance crew--are often at the mercy of a system that won't take more of a hard line in preventing and ending negative behavior patterns. There used to be a program in the building that was staffed by two women. Our floor, the administrative wing, experienced a reign of vandalism between fall of 2004 and late summer of 2005, perpetrated by kids who had somehow managed to get a hold of some keys. The acts would take place late at night, long after we had gone home for the day. I became more and more incensed as time went on, when no concrete action appeared to be done to stop the incidents. The two women became fearful. They are no longer here. The uneasiness of not feeling secure in the workplace because of the kids' actions was not the main reason they left, but it was one of the reasons. One of them told me not long before she quit: "We didn't sign up for this."

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