While I don’t anticipate making this a series, additional ideas have surfaced in my sometimes-chaotic brain. While it’s true that some of these things may not be “possible” for very good (or more likely not very good) reasons, it is also perhaps true that at least some haven’t been suggested or considered.

Additionally, some of the ideas seem small and inconsequential—why bother? What difference could these small things possibly make?

This is not a political post, but I want to use a recent political “story” to illustrate a point about small things. Congress recently passed tax reform that contained a significant tax cut. There were some politicians who claimed these were “crumbs” and railed against the tax reform generally. Other Americans were thrilled to get those “crumbs,” because it did have a positive impact on their lives. That’s why microloans can make a difference in the lives of individuals in developing countries (or even in developed ones). You see, it’s not money that is the root of all (or even most) evil. It is instead the lack of money that causes problems.

The tax cut, combined with significantly reduced unemployment, helps ease financial problems for people. And when people are working and able to support themselves and their families, a lot of other problems take care of themselves.

I share this because some of the ideas in this blog post may seem small, yet they have the potential to smooth out some of the rough edges of the “system.” They reduce the dependence on DHS, so that cases can move forward even if the worker is, shall we say, not particularly responsive.

Lawyers can sometimes work around DHS, although that increases their workload, by forcing them to do the things DHS should be doing as the social worker. But there are some things that only DHS can do. And that’s where things get monkeyed up.

For example, only DHS can request bus passes for clients. In a case I had, DHS did not do that in a timely fashion. That resulted in the parent missing a family therapy session, a doctor’s appointment (needed to submit with his social security disability claim), and curfew at the shelter where he was staying (which meant he was locked out for the bitterly cold night).

What if, instead, the attorney could also request the bus pas? You could still have safeguards in place to make sure the money is spent appropriately, but this would prevent the kind of cascading problem that lack of transportation can sometimes create. And if multiple people requested the pass, it would still only produce one pass that could be picked up by the client at any bus station.

Another thing that only DHS can request is a family team meeting (“FTM”). Attorneys can, of course, request one from the DHS worker, but then the worker has to make the “referral” to the agency responsible for facilitating the meetings. And then the facilitator has to try to coordinate with everyone via email to set it up.

What if, instead, a request could be made online and could include the entire team? The FTM facilitator could provide a calendar of available dates that people could mark availability (and that would turn “green” on the dates where everyone was available, red for those who are not available, and yellow for those who have not responded) so the facilitator could see at a glance which date/time would work best. Part of the difficulty in scheduling these is that in the interim between when someone responds and the meeting is actually scheduled, other things come up in people’s calendars.

And maybe that technology would alert the facilitator if this particular case has already had a FTM in a particular quarter, so that a request could be sent to the supervisor for permission for another. Perhaps, in order to prevent that from becoming a problem, there could be a reminder sent to the supervisor in five days if s/he hasn’t responded; two days later the request is deemed approved if no response.

Finally, DHS often provides “resources” to parents/families. Unfortunately, what that sometimes means is, for example, if DHS is supposed to “help” them find housing assistance, they might simply provide a list of agencies for the parent to call. What if there was a list of these resources that could be housed in one easy place, with equally easy access? And what if that list became part of a checklist? DHS, attorneys, or other professionals could “check” the lists they need, click “submit,” and the software would print out only the requested lists to be given to their clients (or emailed to them, if the client has access to email)?

Finally, when talking about things the clients haven’t done, I hear, “we need them to be able to do that on their own.” And my response is often, “Yes. But not today.” In other words, at the beginning of a case, a parent is so traumatized and so overwhelmed that s/he cannot hear, process, understand, and do everything they are being asked to do.

What if instead, we implemented an educational philosophy: I do, then we do, then you do? In other words, in the beginning there may be some things that we do for our clients; then we do things with our clients, and then we transition to where they are doing things on their own. We may spend most of the time in that middle category of “we do” together, whether that means actually spending time with them helping them fill out forms, research resources, etc., or instead acting as a resource and sounding board for them as they work through decisions and choices.

What if our “what if” questions motivated us to actually solve problems, rather than idly lament all the problems in the system?


And Another Thing…
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