Being a Social Worker means that no matter how often you work on empowering your clients. We strive to help our clients get where they want to go and help them reach their potential. This is why we work in the human service field, we believe in the potential work all clients. Sometimes the kindest thing you can do is be the dreaded dream crusher.
A few years ago, I had a client who had severe mental health issues. They had FAS, an IQ in the high 60’s, and adaptive functioning in the low 60’s. It wasn’t until they were 17, that I began working with them in the transitional living capacity. The interdisciplinary team had said, “she plans on going to college. She is going to be a nurse.” Awesome, I love helping youth figure out the whole college thing. Helping them to take advantage of all the community opportunities they are eligible for. Unfortunately, not a single person on the team mentioned that this youth was lower functioning. The team had presented the youth as “average functioning” and reported how successful they were in high school.
Initially, when I came in as the Chafee worker, we talked about goals, as these are the driving force of our work with youth. The youth presented very well initially but college can be challenging for any youth with a spotty education record. We discussed alternative career planning. Step 1, they work on certified nurse assistant (CNA) through our local tech college, then working towards a nursing degree. We did the application online and went in for the TABE testing. For this program, students needed to test in the 8th grade level in reading and math to pass the course and understand the material.
After giving them the information to practice for the test, they failed miserably. Not by a couple points but by several grade levels. The youth tested in the 4 grade level for reading and the 2nd grade level for math. Moreover, I was blown away, not by their lack skills, but by the notion that her entire team had told her she was going to be a nurse knowing the barriers that were present. There had been such disparity between her capabilities and what they had told her she could do. My client was never given a real picture of their current skill level and what becoming a nurse entailed. I am all for empowering youth to become what they want. In no world is someone at that academic level going straight into a four year nursing program and successfully completing it without a lot of help.
How did they slip through the cracks?
Why did this happen? Was it that the team didn’t communicate enough to know her academic and developmental deficits? Was it that no one had the heart to talk to them about real life barriers? In fact, there were so many barriers that I find it discouraging how far she slipped through the cracks. I believe it was the latter. These are always hard conversations but not having them is even harder. It is painful to watch already struggling clients be clotheslined by life when someone could have helped them readjust their expectations.
After the testing, we had a very difficult conversation about their goals. It was not a conversation about how they could never be a nurse, that was not my place. This was a conversation about how nursing requires certain skills and if this was the path they wanted to continue down, work on some things. My client and I talked about concrete ideas, about raising their reading and math levels. In addition, we discussed the lacking hygiene and self-care. We spoke about college and those expectations along with what happens if they fail a class. My client had a hard time accepting the test results and the reason they were shut out of the program was not punitive. Consequently, they NEEDED to be able to read at an 8th grade level to understand the material presented in the classes.
I set my client up with a post high school transition aged youth program through the local high school. They worked on increasing her TABE testing skills along with other amazing life skills classes. The program was even able to set her up with a slower paced CNA program through the local middle college. This story does not have a happy ending, my client had many barriers to this dream. Ultimately, did not have the capacity to achieve their dream at that time no matter who many safety nets we put in place. You win some, you lose some, and sometimes being a dream crusher is all you can do to help someone.