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Food for thought.
People want to help people – being a social worker is a testament to providing care for others – But what if, due to structural constraints it is impossible. Apparently, the answer is, you do paperwork. Tiffany Taylor tackles this in her report : Paperwork First, not Work First: How Caseworkers Use Paperwork to Feel Effective.
Her conclusions paint a sad picture. The case studies she looked at describing, essentially, social workers do paperwork because they cannot help the people they have been tasked to help.
“My findings illustrate that caseworkers used paperwork in three main ways: paperwork was a way to feel effective or successful in their jobs; paperwork was a way to show you followed rules and “covered your ass;” and paperwork was, according to caseworkers, a way to ensure the fair treatment of clients.” -p.23
Fascinating. But it makes sense as we as human beings like to be reinforced for doing the “right” thing.
“First, completing paperwork was a way for caseworkers to achieve standard measures of effectiveness and to feel successful in their jobs. A great deal of literature has questionedthe effectiveness of current welfare-to-work programs in the United States (e.g., see the 2008 special issue of the Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare about the “success” of welfare; Corcoran et al., 2000; Hennessy, 2005; Lichter & Jayakody, 2002; O’Connor, 2000). There are no clear mechanisms currently in place in the Smithgrove County Work First program that would allow caseworkers to effectively help participants. Even if there were mechanisms, the lack of participant education and skills and the poor local labor market are barriers potentially too large to overcome. Given this, caseworkers turn to the concrete tasks on which supervisors evaluate them: finishing their paperwork on time. While paperwork is frustrating, it is something they can do effectively.”
“Additionally, caseworkers and managers argued the paperwork was important to show you were doing your job correctly (cover yourself) and it is important because it holds case workers accountable to treating program participants fairly. Lipsky (1980), and later Watkins-Hayes (2009), both describe the conflicting roles of street-level bureaucrats. On the one hand, these workers are expected to help clients, but on the other, they are expected to police the behavior of those they serve. Being somewhat wedged between serving their bureaucracies and clients creates a dilemma, one that is often solved by focusing on rule-mindedness. In many ways, caseworkers avoid this dilemma through focusing the majority of their time on completing paperwork. Again, given the lack of mechanisms for helping program participants, caseworkers focus on completing paperwork, arguing that it helps them be fair. No one, however, suggested the paperwork helps program participants find work or helps them move from welfare to work.******The argument that paper work ensured fairness also seemed a response to arguments of bias or discrimination by caseworkers (see Gordon’s 1990 historical work on caseworker bias), something future work should consider more. While recent work has examined case closure and race (Monnat, 2010; Monnat & Bunyan, 2008; Schram, 2005), it is possible some caseworkers believe they are resisting bias, which may or may not be the case. In short, the caseworkers in Smithgrove County wanted to treat people fairly and to them, treating everyone the same, in terms of paperwork, meant being fair.” -p.24
When looking at research like this it reminds me of the idea of the self-fulfilling prophecy. The reactionary forces in the United States have been waging a war on the social safety net since the late 1970′s. The idea of a society that helps all of its members is regarded as some sort of toxic left-wing fantasy. Count how long it takes to the conservative self-righteous to decry big government, welfare and the “takers” in society. Under this banner they have systematically rendered much of the social safety net ineffective in the US, thus gradually making the unreality of their arguments begin to ring true.
Now… Now our zealots can point to the ineffectiveness of Big Government! To that I reply: “Where you expecting a different result when you’ve been hollowing out the system for last 40 or so years?”.
The insidiousness of self fulfilling prophecies indeed.
Sometimes there are no words for describing the foul airs that somehow passes as conservative “thought”. Just sharing this so you can join me in shaking your head in disbelief.
Most immigration hardliners also believe that anyone who comes to this country damn well ought to learn English. No bilingual education, no chance of Americans ever rubbing elbows with people who don’t speak Amurrican.
“\But Lindel Toups, who sits on the Lafourche Parish City Council, is upset that Mexicans are trying to learn English, and he’d like to divert funding from libraries to a new jail because of that fact. Toups played down the importance of libraries in recent comments to the Tri-Parish TimesandBusiness News, by pointing out that the Spanish-language Biblioteca Hispana section helps Spanish-speakers learn English.
“They’re teaching Mexicans to speak English,” Toups said “Let that son of a bitch go back to Mexico.”
Libraries are apparently a great source of evil. “There’s just so many things they’re doing that I don’t agree with… Them junkies and hippies and food stamps [recipients] and all, they use the library to look at drugs and food stamps [on the Internet]. I see them do it.”
The citizens of Lafourche Parish are voting this week on whether to keep $800,000 in the library system or put it toward the $25 million needed for a new jail. That way, they might be able to avoid an increase in taxes.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.”
This piece from Linda Tirado – describes her experience of what it is like to be poor and how that works into your life and your goals… go read the full article at Alternet.org.
“I make a lot of poor financial decisions. None of them matter, in the long term. I will never not be poor, so what does it matter if I don’t pay a thing and a half this week instead of just one thing? It’s not like the sacrifice will result in improved circumstances; the thing holding me back isn’t that I blow five bucks at Wendy’s. It’s that now that I have proven that I am a Poor Person that is all that I am or ever will be. It is not worth it to me to live a bleak life devoid of small pleasures so that one day I can make a single large purchase. I will never have large pleasures to hold on to. There’s a certain pull to live what bits of life you can while there’s money in your pocket, because no matter how responsible you are you will be broke in three days anyway. When you never have enough money it ceases to have meaning. I imagine having a lot of it is the same thing.
Poverty is bleak and cuts off your long-term brain. It’s why you see people with four different babydaddies instead of one. You grab a bit of connection wherever you can to survive. You have no idea how strong the pull to feel worthwhile is. It’s more basic than food. You go to these people who make you feel lovely for an hour that one time, and that’s all you get. You’re probably not compatible with them for anything long-term, but right this minute they can make you feel powerful and valuable. It does not matter what will happen in a month. Whatever happens in a month is probably going to be just about as indifferent as whatever happened today or last week. None of it matters. We don’t plan long-term because if we do we’ll just get our hearts broken. It’s best not to hope. You just take what you can get as you spot it.”
But what kills me, after reading article is going to the crowd sourced funding page and looking at the comments. I stopped after the first 40 because of the accusations and the scrutiny. People are horrible and inhumane, especially so when they think that a poor person might be scamming the system. If they only held the actual scammers (Wall Street et al.) in such high contempt…
“Well, there’s always a class war going on. The United States, to an unusual extent, is a business-run society, more so than others. The business classes are very class-conscious—they’re constantly fighting a bitter class war to improve their power and diminish opposition. Occasionally this is recognized.
We don’t use the term “working class” here because it’s a taboo term. You’re supposed to say “middle class,” because it helps diminish the understanding that there’s a class war going on.
It’s true that there was a one-sided class war, and that’s because the other side hadn’t chosen to participate, so the union leadership had for years pursued a policy of making a compact with the corporations, in which their workers, say the autoworkers—would get certain benefits like fairly decent wages, health benefits and so on. But it wouldn’t engage the general class structure. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why Canada has a national health program and the United States doesn’t. The same unions on the other side of the border were calling for health care for everybody. Here they were calling for health care for themselves and they got it. Of course, it’s a compact with corporations that the corporations can break anytime they want, and by the 1970s they were planning to break it and we’ve seen what has happened since.
This is just one part of a long and continuing class war against working people and the poor. It’s a war that is conducted by a highly class-conscious business leadership, and it’s one of the reasons for the unusual history of the U.S. labor movement. In the U.S., organized labor has been repeatedly and extensively crushed, and has endured a very violent history as compared with other countries.”