No Contact.. Or Just A Little Contact?
June 4, 2013 5:40 PM   Subscribe

I am a social worker who has recently started working at a new agency in the same small community as my last position. While my departure from the previous agency went smoothly, there has been one glitch that I need to handle - and I would really appreciate some advice on the best course of action.

I have consulted with the Executive Director of my current agency, and with the supervisor from the last agency, as well as other professionals - and have received some mixed advice, but ultimately have been told that I have the freedom to make the final decision.

At my previous job, I worked in supportive housing for individuals with addictions. I supported one particular client for 2 years and worked with this client through many ''cycles'' of struggle, generally when this client felt they were being trapped in "the system" or when the client was faced with consequences that this client felt were unfair.

This client typically handled these situations by becoming increasingly angry, and verbally abusive towards me, but would ultimately call back in a few days apologizing and hoping I would forgive this client. I did so many times as I felt this was supporting the client's needs and being a constant in the client's life.

Last fall an incident occurred that resulted in the client going to jail for a short period of time, a no-contact order being issued between the client and I (even though I told the police I thought this was a bad idea), and the client ending up on probation for 2 years.

We are 6 months into the client's probation and I am in a new job. I have run into the client in the community and it has felt as though the client is pushing the envelope for how close the client can be to me. I have informed probation of these occurrences. However, now the client would like to write me a letter, I can only assume for closure. I found this out through the client's current worker. Probation has told the client this is ok, leaving me to say yes or no.

The way I see it, I have the following options:

1 - say no to the letter but possibly 'poke the bear', anger the client, etc. (I still have to see the client in the community)

2 - say yes to the letter, essentially helping the client succeed in manipulating the rules/system that the client doesn't like (as I've seen done many times by the client), possibly confuse the client by opening up a door to communication

3 - say no and state that my current employer does not think it's a good idea (this is an option from my employer but leaves me feeling a little powerless in the situation)

4 - say yes but not agree to read the letter. so, ok, send it but I may or may not read it.

I can't decide which option is healthiest and safest for me - in the long term - and would appreciate your advice. If it matters, I am located in Canada.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The client's behavior never changed despite the repeated apologies.

I would go with option 3 in order to direct client's possible bad reaction away from you.
posted by brujita at 5:47 PM on June 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you choose to accept the letter, is it possible to require it to be sent to you via the probation worker, so that they read it first and screen it for anything upsetting or inappropriate?
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 6:00 PM on June 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

Say No, and site the law. Explain that you have left the old agency and that he needs to work with a new person.

This client is manipulating everyone and you need to establish boundaries that are right for YOU!

Simply say, "I'm no longer your counselor and it would be inappropriate for you to continue to contact me. In fact there is a restraining order in place to prevent it. You can't always get what you want. I am not your pawn, I have my own life and my own goals. Our time working together is over. Let it go gracefully."

Why are you even considering this?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:03 PM on June 4, 2013 [8 favorites]

I think you could just say "no" full stop. You don't have to provide the reason and, given that there's a no-contact order in place, the reason for your refusal should be fairly obvious.
posted by mingodingo at 6:11 PM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Meant to add -- I agree that acquiescing to the client's request would be seen by him as opening the door to further contact and communication (especially given that he's been pushing the envelope by trying to get closer to you).
posted by mingodingo at 6:13 PM on June 4, 2013 [6 favorites]

Say no, don't give a reason. This is very clearly not appropriate, this person had their chances, and now they have consequences. Don't continue to give in.
posted by brainmouse at 6:13 PM on June 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

Agree that you shouldn't accept the letter - but as a social worker, you probably know how important closure can be (if that's truly the goal here). But you also know that writing the letter provides the closure, not having it read by the intended recipient.

So my suggestion is have them write the letter, but give it to their current worker instead of sending it to you. S/he can read it and use its contents to continue helping the client. If the new worker believes it will be of benefit for you to read it or know of its contents as well, they can follow up with you at some point down the road - but by no means do you even have to mention or commit to this possibility.
posted by trivia genius at 6:44 PM on June 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

I don't think you can ethically share the contents of the letter with the new social worker, without prior notice/permission of the writer.

I was thinking something along the lines of #3. Put it on your new or old employer. But not "they think its not a good idea"... More like "it is not possible for me to recieve correspondence from this former client. My new employer has requested that I not maintain contact with former clients. In addition, there is a current restraining order to abide by." That last bit implies/fudges the idea that you must abide by the restraining order, even though that's not technically the case. It also projects that he must abide by the order -- a non-escalating reminder, if you will.
posted by vitabellosi at 7:19 PM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

My new employer has requested that I not maintain contact with former clients

Take out the "with former clients" -- leave it at "have requested that I not maintain contact." It's truer that way.
posted by vitabellosi at 7:21 PM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

By the way, the thinking behind putting it on your employer is not to disempower you, but more along the lines that they have more resources at their disposal for defending against a threat.

It also suggests to the client that even the social worker is "constrained by rules/institutions" -- a bit of modeling.

(Also -- since when is it helpless to have a community of concern backing you up? Your client has created one, if he has enforcers of restraining orders bending the rules to allow him to contact you.)
posted by vitabellosi at 7:30 PM on June 4, 2013 [11 favorites]

I would be of two minds about this except for:

Last fall an incident occurred that resulted in the client going to jail for a short period of time, a no-contact order being issued between the client and I, and the client ending up on probation for 2 years.

Probation is clearly working with a definition of "no contact" that isn't shared by the rest of us, even if this is part of a formal amends programme.

If this no-contact order is still in place, then I would simply tell the new social worker that No, no contact means no contact and everyone needs to respect both the intent and the letter of that order.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:40 PM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

No, he can't write to you. If he wants to write to anyone he should write to his new social worker. The only framework in which he had a relationship with you is gone now. You're not buddies. To whatever extent a therapeutic goal is achieved by writing things out, it should be his current social worker helping him to achieve it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:07 PM on June 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

I would not assume that the client is writing the letter solely for closure. It is possible that this could (also) be another way for the former client to push the envelope instead of respecting the no contact order.

If the letter is a violation of the no contact order, then it is not appropriate for the social worker to make it your responsibility/your fault that the order be upheld. Assuming that this communication is coming via the current social worker, my response would be to suggest to her that this is an inappropriate question - the message back to the client should be from the social worker should be that the rules of no contact order need to be respected and she (the social worker) should not be a party to violating them or it if is too late for that, she now realizes it was inappropriate for her to suggest that they be ignored. If she won't go with that, then I would respond that you have consulted with others and believe that it is not in client's best interest to encourage her to violate no contact letter and therefore you do not want to be a party to something that will client in trouble with the probation officer.
posted by metahawk at 10:56 PM on June 4, 2013

You are taking on his problem as a problem for you to solve. You can chose to do this but I cannot understand why you would.

If he's in some 12-step program or something, it will have ways to work around your refusal to read the letter.

His recovery is not your problem. Repeat: Not.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:44 PM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

Probation is clearly working with a definition of "no contact" that isn't shared by the rest of us, even if this is part of a formal amends programme.

Also, this!
posted by small_ruminant at 11:45 PM on June 4, 2013

I'm repeating what others have said; you choosing option 3 doesn't make you powerless; you are the one choosing it. If possible, a variation on options three; go back to either probation, or your former employer and tellthem WTF. Ask one/both of them to tell the ex-client "Opps, we were wrong / misunderstood the order. No, you can't send her a letter."

If the probation officers or your previous employer won't do this, and you absolutely can't accept the taste of saying your current employer prohibits it, then you should say he's free to send it, but that you're disengaging from the situation, and you will absolutely not read it, or anything the client sends.

Standard mefi advice of read "The Gift of Fear." Save any correspondence, if any does arrive (returning via the post office would be poking the bear), in case it's needed later. It might be best (keeping in mind that his game is manipulation) to have someone else monitor it for threats / escalating behavior rather than doing so yourself.
posted by nobeagle at 6:16 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I found this out through the client's current worker.

The client's current social worker needs a head-check re: appropriate boundaries. They should have nipped this request in the bud, and not put you in such a delicate position.

I would simply tell the new worker that you are absolutely not to be receiving any written communication from your former client.

No explanation necessary. Just a firm no.

Part of you former client's recovery involves him/her coming to the understanding that they don't get to impose their desire for closure or amends-making on unwilling recipients. S/he can write the letter, and file it away, unsent. This is a necessary life skill for this person to learn if they are truly to be rehabilitated. Not that this person's recovery is any of your direct business any longer, but just in case you were feeling any twinges of responsibility for their longterm prospects.

Really, though, the new caseworker needs to rein this in pronto.
posted by nacho fries at 7:15 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

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