6-1, January 2000
by Richard Bermack
I missed all my sons junior college baseball games, my daughters 15th birthday, for what? So I could have a breakdown and end up on medication?
Maryellen McFadden has a recurring nightmare: she is
trying to wrap a blanket around 15 or 20 kittens who are badly wounded.
I can see large holes in them with blood pouring out. Im trying
to get them help. Im trying to find a place to take them, but the
doctors office is closed and no one will help me.
Worried About Not
Serving the Clients
I personally believe that in the beginning, when a parent first loses the child, no matter how lacking they are in parenting or life skills, the devastation of losing their child shocks them into action, McFadden says. But the longer it goes before we can provide them services, the less motivated they become. Now the court worker is expected to provide services as well as do the court work, but if Im in court four days a week, Im not available to the client. I return from court and my voice mail is full. It is pretty frustrating for the clients. Im lucky to provide even basic services. About all I can do is say, Call so and so for counseling, and here is the number for drug testing. Were not available to the client at the beginning, when it would do the most good.
Day in the Life
When I check my voice mail, there are two emergency calls. A foster parent wants a kid moved immediately and another kid has tried to commit suicide in a group home. I also have a petition to write and file by the end of the day and a court appearance. So I chase down the emergency response worker on the case that needs a petition, only to find the ER worker is still trying to get the police report. So I cant write the petition yet. Then another parent aide informs me that she wasnt able to do a court-ordered visit last week, when it was supposed to be done, and this week she is sick. So now I have to call around and find someone else to do the visit or just give it up and figure Ill take the consequences from the court. I still havent had time to call the hospital in Walnut Creek to check on the kid who tried to commit suicide, but I do talk with the foster mother of the other child, who calls to tell me she wants the child removed from her home immediately because he is acting out sexually and she found him in bed with her three-year-old daughter. So I call shelter care and ask them to find a home for a seven- year-old boy who is acting out and cant be in a home with younger children. They start going down their list, and I start trying to contact the foster parents they suggest. Meanwhile Im still trying to get all the info for the petition, which is supposed to get to clerical staff by 1 p.m. so that it can be fax-filed by 3 p.m.
I start writing the report, but before I can finish, the hospital calls to say the kid who tried to commit suicide has recovered, and I have to come and take him. The hospital is in Walnut Creek, at least a half-hour away, and Im due in court in Martinez for a 2 p.m. trial on another case. I still havent made the drug referrals the court ordered, the procedure for which has changed five times in the last six months. The foster mother calls again, saying that she is going to put the kid out on the porch with his belongings and leave him there until someone gets him. Im leaving for court, where Ill be for the rest of the day, so I call a social worker assistant and ask her to pick up the kid at Walnut Creek Psych and take him to the receiving center until a home can be found. Driving to court, which is about 30 or 40 minutes away, I call another social worker assistant on my cell phone and arrange for them to pick up the kid who was left on the porch.
And the next day it begins all over again, only Im in the hole from the day before. Im in court at 9 a.m. for a detention hearing, and also a regularly scheduled case where, sure enough, its the case where the parents aide was sick, and everyone is upset that there was no visit. I feel like Im bailing water out of the Titanic with a teaspoon. I have nothing to work with.
Im not saying every day is like that but I have had a lot of days like that.
On January 10, 2000, after working for the county for over 12 years and carrying one of the highest caseloads, Maryellen McFadden had a nervous breakdown at her desk and had to be taken to a hospital by ambulance. She was crying hysterically and having chest pains and trouble breathing. She has been on stress leave since then. To add insult to injury, when she applied for disability the state informed her that there is no record she ever worked for Contra Costa County. (The disability pay has since been resolved.)