Blogger’s like to have readers – otherwise they would just keep a journal and hide it under their mattress. So, when someone says “I read your blog”, there is usually a certain gratification. However, when that person is a judge who tells you this in the midst of a pre-trial in a case involving a frequent topic of your blog, then “I read your blog” gives pause rather than gratification. That happened recently and in that pause, I considered the risk versus benefit of blogging – at least on topics that I have a strong opinion about. Did I harm or help my current client with my postings? Did I offend him/her (since many of my posts are meant to prick the minds of people enough to get them thinking about a topic)? Was the judge informed or did my shared experiences contradict his/her own? Did I at least convey that I care deeply about the issues, even if the judge’s perspective is at odds with my own? I cannot answer any of those questions and regardless of the answers, there is no going back. Once something is posted on this world wide web, consider it immortal. The only thing I could do was review some of my prior posts and see if, in retrospect, I have been balanced and fair.
In reviewing my posts regarding the Cabinet for Health & Family Services, I recognized that I have advocated strongly for increased funding and other systemic improvements. What I have not touched upon much is the individual responsibility of a person who undertakes the duties of working as a social services worker for the Cabinet. It is entirely true, as many of my prior posts state, that chronic underfunding, understaffing and other circumstance beyond the individual worker’s control perpetuate systemic problems. It is also true that these systemic problems influence the individual workers in how they perform their duties. However, I have seen workers who performed with integrity despite the pressures and I have seen other workers take the short cuts. My point is that I have not intended to make excuses for individual workers to neglect their duties by engaging in falsification of records, failing to make reasonable home visits to clients and foster homes, failing to perform thorough investigations, jumping to snap conclusions, engaging in lazy black and white thinking, perjuring themselves in court, or any of the other short-cuts I have seen taken.
There is a cost to maintaining integrity and providing quality services in spite of the system’s problems. One cost is time. I routinely worked sixty hour weeks and many times much more than that and barely stayed caught up so, I know the good workers at the Cabinet must be doing the same. So many nights were spent responding to a an emergency page or phone call. Another cost is emotional. I had many sleepless nights thinking about people in my care as well as reviewing the tasks left undone and I know many workers go through the same struggle. Despite the costs, those workers with integrity care deeply and recognize that they are making life altering decisions. There is no room for short-cuts with that.
While this post lacks the satirical quality of some recent ones and has that sappy, soapbox quality that can be such a turn-off, I wanted to be sure to explain that there is not a simple equation of “systemic problems” = “problem worker excused.” Instead, I advocate for fixing the systemic problems with the Cabinet and also call upon individual workers to maintain integrity and quality despite the obstacles. Your families deserve no less. If you are simply putting in time and getting by for that paycheck, please find another career.
And, as for the perils of blogging out here in the public realm where even judges happen across my musings, I am quite sure that it is not the smartest or most political thing for an attorney to do. I am sure it could cost me clients or job opportunities. Perhaps it could sway a judge against a client or cause a hundred other bads, but speaking out for one’s believes has never been an activity for the timid. I write this for the hope of the one good that it might bring and that hope is sufficient to give me the courage to put my beliefs out there where you can consider them. Who knows – maybe I’ll even get it right occasionally!