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We Appreciate Your Patience

How many times have you heard this line?

"All available operators are busy helping other customers. We will be with you as soon as possible. We appreciate your patience".

Patience? Thirty minutes later, I am still hearing a computer-generated female, calmly thanking me for my patience. LADY, I am here to tell you that the patience meter has dipped to zero.

When I initially booked this service, the salesman, connecting immediately, delivered acute attention to every detail of my needs. Now that I no longer have need of the services, I have discovered that cancelling the renewal has proven to be a calculated act of torture. Niggling, at the back of my consciousness, is the little anger monster poking me...teasing me...telling me that this agency is hoping I will give up and just let the automatic renewal go through. I am being prodded, with the hot poker of negativity, to become angry.

How dare they treat customers like this, just to get a little more money!

They don't care about me or anyone other than their profit!

And so came the emotions, triggered by the taunts.

It took some self-talk and vagal breathing to remain in a calm state (well, mostly calm). Subsequently, after 45 minutes, I settled for the call back feature, realizing they may not call me back. I chose the feature as, just the act of hanging on, fed the little subconscious imp. And I didn't want to be the one to make him fat. Eventually they called me back. But when I explained I wanted to cancel the renewal, I got put on another hour hold. I eventually gave up with the intent to try again another day. The little monster snorted disgustedly at my surrender.

Pondering the experience, I hated feeling helpless, caught in the loop of repeated platitudes with no relief in sight. That feeling triggered a memory of my recent conversation with a colleague from another state. This friend had been dealing with the child welfare agency in that state as a mental health provider. She had been working with a woman, experiencing untreated depression, who lost custody of her young daughter due to neglect. My friend described great progress with her client, who had been taking medication regularly and attending bi-weekly therapy. Six months after losing custody of her daughter, this client had completed all that had been asked of her with the exception on one thing: a hair follicle drug test. Now my colleague explained that other than psychotropic medication, there was no evidence the mother had every used drugs. To make matters more confusing, the client had taken a previous drug test which came back negative for all substances. The client (mother of the child) agreed to the hair follicle test, but the worker had not yet found an agency with an opening for mother to utilize for the test. The caseworker told the mom that her caseload was so large that she hadn't had time to get her in for the test. So the mom was not even allowed to see her child without supervision, and her chance of reunifying with her little girl stalled out.

If you are a social worker reading this, that little monster inside of you is probably bristling. But keep reading and know my intent is not to judge. Because I have been where you are for over 30 years. And, I do want to validate the near impossibility of the social work profession, trying to achieve positive outcomes for families, while struggling with ridiculous caseloads. I have seen firsthand how difficult it is to accomplish all that is needed to save others with families when you are drowning yourself.

Right now, turnover in some states for social workers are as high as 64%. That is the highest I have ever seen in my life. We could dive into the why of such a high turnover, but that is a blog for another day. Social workers feel undervalued and are not supported in their quest to accomplish all that is asked of them. However, I would like to focus on the ripple effect. In other words, the overburdening of social workers directly affects hurting families and children. In other words, putting out fires and handling the most disruptive cases, leaves some cases in limbo. And limbo (for a toddler) is forever.

I truly wish I had an answer for relieving the burden of heavy caseloads on social workers, who came into a difficult career to make a difference. But that kind of change requires a systematic rethinking of the value placed on social work by the state and national leaders. Again, a blog for another day. All I can do, for now, is to encourage those workers to keep going and to recognize what a difference you make to those without a voice: those that matter. They look to you to lend a supportive hand and guide them through this crisis.

My challenge this week is to look at those you serve with fresh eyes. See how they suffer when unavailable services delay their treatment and ultimately their ability to be with their family. Instead of spending all of your time with the squeaking wheels, try to also focus on those who are quietly waiting for their time in the queue.

The very next day I tried again and somehow connected (after another hour on hold) with the kindest voice. He took the time and walked me through the process. It wasn't even his department (they had yet again sent me to the wrong one) but he stopped what he was doing and cancelled my renewal. Just having someone hear me and help me boosted my morale. The entire transaction took no more than 10 minutes yet brought such relief. I know your schedule is packed and stressful. If you can, try to set aside some time each day to help someone who is still holding on.

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