Thursday, August 27, 2015

Life in a locked facility

For the last 13 years I have either 1) worked and gone to school or 2) worked two jobs. Thirteen years is a long time. I don't even like to admit I'm old enough to have been working for 13 years! But, well, I'm tired. Really tired.

My current full time job is as a clinician in a preschool partial hospitalization unit. That means little teeny kiddos who get kicked out of "regular" preschools and daycares. Typically for aggressive behavior. The kids who hit, kick, bite, throw things (like chairs and tables). The unit is locked. Non-staff must be accompanied by staff when they are visiting the unit. Parents don't get to meet other parents or get to know their child's classmate because of confidentiality. It can be intense.

It is pretty much a daily occurrence to hear crying, screaming, and swearing on the unit. Three year olds with quite the vocabulary of profanity. Chairs get thrown. Punches get thrown. Once even a window was broken. And a bus caught on fire. Because a kid got ahold of a flare. It can be intense.

I deal with parents on a daily basis. I have heard all sorts of explanations and excuses for their child's behavior or for not attending session. A parent once cancelled session because they had to do laundry. I kid you not. I meet with parents who want to medicate their kids into submission. I meet with parents who are in denial that their child truly needs medication. It can be intense.

I see poverty. I see abuse. I see severe mental health. In my face, up close and personal. I've been sworn at and hit. I've had things ripped off my walls. I've had lamps tossed. I've had milk poured onto my carpet. I see toddler tantrums and grown up hissy fits. I call Child Protective Services. It can be intense.

Sometimes staff makes inappropriate jokes after the kids leave. Because if we didn't laugh, we would cry. It can be THAT intense.

Then I go home and parent. And sometimes go to my second job. And try to maintain a healthy marriage. And some sort of a social life. It can be intense. And exhausting.

It isn't all bad. Just yesterday I went to a dance party for the kids who had been safe all week. A gym full of kids doing the Nae Nae together. I got hugs from two of my kiddos who moved up to the school age program. I hear from parents, grandparents, foster parents, and legal guardians who finally understand what is going on with their child and how to effectively help their child. Not every day do I see the good. Lately seems to be a particularly bad string of bad days. But there are good moments. Intense, exhausting moments.

Not everyone is cut out for this kind of work. Just like I am not cut out for anything the involves more blood than a paper cut produces. Most people realize pretty quickly they aren't right for the job,  but we have some martyrs. Those who complain about anything and everything and constantly try to get others to do their work. But we have some people very passionate about helping kids be the best possible version of themselves. People who can engage the tough kids, form relationships, and motivate kids to do better, try harder. People who can engage with parents who are victims of poverty, abuse, trauma, a failing system. Parents who are mentally ill and can barely care for themselves let alone their child or children.

I have thick files on kids who have been here six months, nine months, a year. Kids who will always need treatment and kids who should have never been in treatment.  I get buried under mountains of paperwork. I don't always return calls within 24 hours. I go home and can't always muster the energy to cook. I blast music in my car to erase the day before I put on my parent hat. But sometimes I still dream about the injustices of the world. I am rarely shocked by them, but I am still moved by them, the injustices of the world. And hopefully I always will be.

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