Public Social Services
Christine L. is a black woman who has been working in a public New York City child welfare organization for twenty years. She now views her job as little more than a paycheck, finding almost no hope of effecting even modest positive change in the lives of the children with whom she comes into contact daily. Her efforts to get an advanced degree beyond the B.S.W. have been stymied by the heavy caseload and stress associated with agency work. Ms. L. now engages her work in an increasingly mechanical manner. In dealing with uniform case record forms, for instance, which structure encounters with agency clients, she tends more and more to see the completion of the forms as the focal point of her work.
Ms. L.'s work was not always so devoid of hope and narrowly focused. She entered the field of children's services with the intention of working imaginatively and passionately to assist troubled and poor youngsters. She also understood that such work would depend on the development of skill and maintenance of commitment. Her idealism was tempered by the realization that she could not help every youngster in need. Despite these tensions, she maintained that modest, even slow progress in some children's functioning was the foundation for the development of practice and what she enjoyed most about social work. Many years later, Ms. L. no longer talks about the joys or frustrations associated with her work. Her singular preoccupation is surviving the five years before she is eligible for retirement.
What happened to Ms. L.? Why is she so estranged from her work? How does Ms. L.'s approach toward her work affect clients? Can we