I have always been a fan of A Series of Unfortunate Events, written by Daniel Handler. The many books accompanied me after checking out of the school’s library, and the never ending and tragic tale of this family left me with the desire to keep reading as I hoped for better outcomes. Presently, the Netflix series has me avidly watching, while simultaneously becoming infuriated by the children’s services that occurs through a BANK. That’s right, a bank. And an incredibly incompetent bank person at that – In his defense, he is not a social worker, so I will cut him some slack.
Below you will find a summary of points that social workers can be reminded of, particularly in regards to child welfare services. Though it is a fictitious and often exaggerated adolescent’s story, there is found to be too many parallels to social work services and vulnerable populations. May you be attentive to what has been observed, and may you also find enjoyment and inspiration throughout the series.
- Children are resilient. Resilience in children is often seen, and many times glorified to an unhealthy extent. We need to remember that yes, children can healthily recover from extremely traumatic situations – scenarios of which we cannot wrap our own minds around. This does not mean we do not help simply because they have the astounding ability to heal. Children still need supports, effective social workers, counseling services, and an empathetic person who hears their concerns.
- Bankers are not social workers, and they ought not be. This was the most frustrating aspect of the Series on Netflix. The role that should have been an effective and evidence-based practicing social worker was replaced with that of a banker. I constantly thought to myself, “If only he was a social worker, then this would all be resolved.” Remember, you chose this profession to serve others. It is our ethical responsibility to continue to educate ourselves, grow as professionals, and take on the challenge of becoming the best practicing social worker we can be. Otherwise, a banker could do our job.
- Psychopaths cannot be reasoned with. I think it goes without saying that the lead villain, Count Olaf, is indeed a psychopath. I am currently unsure of his childhood circumstances, so perhaps he is a sociopath, but the difference is irrelevant. Countless time throughout the show, the children unknowingly attempt to reason with Count Olaf, or say statements such as, “You’re never going to get away with this.” Psychopathy is not my forte, but I understand at the basic level that this is no way to deal with a psychopath, because they do not care. Psychopaths have no empathy, and quite honestly, could not care less about how you are feeling. Attempting to reason with a psychopath could harm an individual instead because the psychopath has confirmation that his or her actions are hurting someone. Leave the “reasoning” to professionals.
- Children should be listened to, especially when their safety is in question. It is rare for children to lie about abuse or maltreatment that is occurring to them. Please, if a child has concerns over their safety, or is highly untrustworthy of an adult or group of adults, there are reasons. Listen to them. It could be what saves the child from a life threatening situation.
- Similarly, children ought to also have a voice in their care and treatment. As social workers, we are taught to collaborate with clients in regards to treatment plans and goal setting. This is also true for children. No person can be successful if they are forced to participate in something, or complete a task they see no need for. Children are also creative and hungry for attention and knowledge. Collaborating with them in their treatment could only further engage them in the helping relationship.
- Evil people can wear disguises that fool many, even if you see through them. In terms of child sexual abuse, and any sexual abuse for that matter, predators and perpetrators exhibit grooming behaviors in order to gain the trust of their victims, as well as the family and community surrounding the victim. Many pedophiles are upstanding, well-known members of the community. They put on this facade in order to build trust and inhibit people from believing they could be participating in this kind of atrocious behavior.
- Transparency is most beneficial, especially when highly important information is not known due to secrecy. As a social worker, it is unethical to lie to clients. Many times, your client could catch you in a lie, and in doing so, tear down the professional relationship it took so long to build. Being upfront with clients initially will long-term be more beneficial to the client’s treatment and chance of success.
- Guardians and next-of-kin can be unsupportive, uncaring, and inconsiderate of the care children need. Too many times, I have seen parents of sexually abused children continue to surround his or her family with similar groups of people and dangerous ways of life. In foster care, family care is often the first desired outcome, and I support this completely. However, social workers need to continually evaluate the effectiveness of family support – or lack thereof – and assess if the child is flourishing in accordance to his or her development.
- Media rarely expresses the full and factual story. Fellow social workers probably understand the pain and frustration in terms of social work stories in the media. As most news stories, it is often a negative situation and the social worker is typically the “bad guy.” As professionals, it is our job to do the best we can at our jobs in order to show the general public that social workers are majority AMAZING! In this way, we can also be reminded to use empathy with clients of whom have diverse backgrounds, criminal pasts, and ways of life we generally do not understand or agree with. We also do not know the full story, and we ought to hold back judgement.
- Hard work, a support system, and an education can take a child a long way. (As can therapy, but this is not seen in the Series). Children have the ability to flourish, and their environment can be a significant predictor in positive and negatives outcomes. Aspire to be the social worker that a success-story child says is the reason for their recovery.
- Reading and educating oneself can answer many questions, and hinder ignorance from taking one captive. Within the social work profession, life-long learning and education is a necessity in order to practice effective social work. Never stop reading, researching, writing, and developing as a professional. You may have your degree, but knowledge does not stop flowing.