Are you the Social Worker? No, I am the mom.

file000527564214I walked into my son’s new residential and sat down to have the “intake” meeting.  A lot was happening.  It’s a new program in a new location and new staff too.  It’s also a program designed for young people moving to adulthood. Alex is 3 months past his 18th birthday and I thought things might be different since he is an adult now.

Everyone had welcoming smiles in a warm room that appeared to be an office-like area.  Many of them asked for things all at once. My son- the new adult- didn’t answer but instead looked at me as they asked. Intake filled out- check! Medication- check! Prescriptions, clothing, PRN notes, bank account- check, check, check.

Then it began to get more detailed.  They start talking: He needs a primary care doctor, a psychiatrist, his own bank account in a bank nearby.  Oh, and he needs to learn public transportation.  To me, it felt like a whirlwind of information and demands all within 5 minutes.  I looked at my son’s face and said, ”Excuse me can we update you on a few things?”

I started by saying, “I have the primary care, psychiatrist and bank account all set.”   Eyes widen and someone immediately says, “Wow, you are the most organized social worker we have ever met.”   I reply calmly, looking at my son in a reassuring way that says: I got this one. That means that I will teach the community on this one.  To the staff I say, “I am not a social worker. I am his mom.”

There is silence and people look around at each other.  The main program person says, “We have never had a parent come to the program. The majority of our young men belong to the Department of Children and Families- not Department of Mental Health.  Are you local? Are you involved? Is he your real son? “

Massachusetts has launched a new approach to residential services funded by both Department of Children and Families and Department of Mental Health called Caring Together.  That means a new way of delivering residential care that can support families by doing two things: Keep families connected, and embrace children with care that they need.  But there needs to be strong standards of how to be family friendly and training on how to accomplish it.

I understood that this was the beginning to our relationship. This residential program had to experience, understand and work with a parent who is involved, connected and has been her son’s case worker.  They needed to accept that this was a parent who knew the details in the files, the appointments, hospitalizations, had the coping skills, and had been involved in the services and education plans for the last 18 years.

We continued with the meeting and then I started with what I thought all parents, or even social workers, would suggest for any child or young adult entering residential.  I said these are the top things that I would want if I were moving into a new program:


  1. Tell my son and me how the passes need to be organized so we can continue to be a family.
  2. Tell us how to access public transportation or program transportation to help keep us together.
  3. Teach my child how to have minimal money on a bank card for emergencies
  4. Allow us move all items into the room together.
  5. Let us make the bed, sheets, comforter , pillows, pictures to help make the room look like “his room at home”
  6. Provide snacks/drinks for the first few days until he understands how basics like shopping, meal time are organized.
  7. Help him add numbers to his cellphone of people in the area to ask for support
  8. Direct him to the local library for community maps so that in his new community he knows how to explore it with staff or (when allowed) alone.
  9. Give him a card to open up when I leave to know that I am here and will continue to be. It’s just like if it was college — it takes getting used to and will be different.
  10. Most important make a plan to talk on the phone and in two –three days and visit again to hear and support that it will be okay.

As I walk to the door to leave, I am approached and a conversation begins.  The staff express enthusiasm and excitement and they love that I am part of their community. They also note that they wish that more kids would have parents involved.   I am surprised that it was a very quick shift.  I am the parent and family and they have no idea how to include me, and they are challenged to shift to embrace this and learn.

They need some help with that challenge and here are my top 5 suggestions:

  1. Have paperwork reflecting all agencies funding this project. Include DCF/DMH on all continuum paperwork. It makes a difference.
  2. Ask for community support but ask for FAMILY Support. Ask the young people who they consider to be their family.
  3. Break BREAD together. Offer water, a small bread or crackers during the first meeting to welcome families. Show them a chart with staff roles so they will know who is who!!  Some programs have a role called Advocate – tell families what that is when that’s what they’ve  been for their child.
  4. Invite families to be involved in community celebrations
  5. Read the paperwork on the young adult’s background to see if there is family involvement and embrace it! If there is not…support that young person of any age to set up their room. It is the youth’s choice but I have never seen a youth going to college that doesn’t want someone to help them move in.

For some programs, including families is a big shift.  This culture shift needs to be supported by training, mentoring and most of all standards of what to do for families. The standard of common sense is not specific enough.  There needs to be standards of good family practice, how to be family friendly, and family engagement.  Only then will families feel like the best standards of care are in place.

Parent of child in Caring Together Model (residential services)

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4 thoughts on “Are you the Social Worker? No, I am the mom.

  1. This is almost my EXACT experience! My daughter’s residence just has NO IDEA what to do with an involved parent. Their entire system and processes and communication methods are designed only for DCF/DMH case workers. There seem to be no other parents on campus. It’s soooo frustrating but every time I hit a wall of frustration – Every time I have an issue with visiting her, every time I can’t talk to her on the phone, every time I can’t see her room, every time I spend 45 minutes ringing the doorbell to try to get into the building to see S for our visit that has to be planned a week in advance – I keep thinking I am changing things and helping out another mom who will come along behind me. It gives me the motivation and strength to keep pushing through the walls. I could have written this same article because this is our life too. No, I’m not the caseworker, I am the MOM!

    Thank you PPAL for continuing to give our families resources and voices. I have to believe that together we are changing things for our children and our families.

  2. When I began reading this article I thought it would tell “the MOM to butt out! That we as family are TOO involved! Leave it to them! (it’s easier for them)
    I am a very involved parent. but for the most part have found that my involvement is not always welcome.
    This article is very good. Yes, doctors, social workers, all the staff need to learn how to welcome and engage the family.

  3. When my daughter went from child residential to an adult placement, just being included in the meetings were a big deal.

  4. Young people know what they need . They also belong to families that want to be included.
    I hope that this blog helps “Caring Together” to train, support families and providers in a stronger way.

    Just like CBHI it appears that we need to learn together and ask the experts about their youth and family.
    Partnership works.

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