Monday, November 03, 2008

Head Banging

Yes, that's what I'm doing -and I'm neither self-soothing (as in disturbed and frustrated children) nor dancing (as in Wayne's World). It's more like the Charlie-Brown-head-thunk, and it's all about this paper I have to (get to) write.

See, the thing is I want to know why classes in homeless shelters don't work. We offer parenting classes, and the parenting doesn't change. We offer nutrition claases, and the eating doesn't change. We offer money-smart classes and no one's any the wiser. So, what are we supposed to do??? We can't just pretend that these things aren't issues.

As a body of professionals, we thought it was about barriers. We've done yeoman's work towards eliminating those barriers. We have child-care, classes offered on-site, multi-cultural teachers, interpreters.... Nope. Still no change.

There's also a small body of literature that suggests that it's really an act of political resistance -possibly not articulated that way- to be non-compliant. On some level, people know that all social service agencies are actually state agencies. We aren't in a literal, technical sense. Nonetheless, a sizeable chunk of our funding comes from governmental bodies. We are, on some insulting level, trying to re-create these people in the state-sanctioned, middle-class mold. They sense that, and refuse to comply. If that's true, more power to them.

But, uninformed political resistance doesn't allow for the reality that if you are obese, you will die prematurely. If you beat your children, you will go to jail. If you smoke, you will die sooner rather than later. What would work, for crying out loud???? And what might work, allowing for the possibility that there is more than one right way to eat, parent, cook, and manage money?

I've been looking for the answer for months. Only today did it dawn on me that no one knows. Believe me when I tell you that if they knew, they would have published it. It's time to start thinking like a scholar, you lame-brain. Hence the Charlie-Brown-head-thunk. Get to work and figure something out.


Lisa :-] said...

I am not a college-educated scholar on the subject of social work...

But it seems to me that these classes, like any "intervention" on any level, don't work because people have to choose to change in order for there to be any possibility for change to happen. And even that isn't always enough.

Outside the social work arena... People diet and then gain back all the weight. People take money management classes and then declare bankruptcy. People take parenting classes and then fall back into the parenting model they learned from their own parents... VERY difficult to change such ingrained behaviors. I can attest to that in my own life.

The most likely "secret" to addressing these negative behaviors in poor people--in any people--is to try to get the proper training to them when it will do some good: when they are very young and their lifetime behaviors are still being imprinted.

I didn't say I knew how to go about doing that...I just said it was likely to be the most successful tactic...

jill said...

I was pretty much going to say the same thing as Lisa. I actually think it may be a bit condescending to call it "political resistance." To my uninformed mind (on this subject, at least, take with a shaker of salt), it sounds like the scholars are saying, "We don't understand it, and we surely wouldn't behave that way, so here's a high-minded potential rationale."

But those very scholars may well be unhealthy in a variety of ways. One of the smartest people of my acquaintance is a lifetime smoker and about 65. She's sure as hell not uninformed: she's a Manhattan-based literary agent and a classics grad from Bryn Mawr. And she's not an anomaly, either - go to any New York high rise or Washington government building or the City of London. You'll find smokers like airplanes stacked over O'Hare on a windy day.

Lisa's right that people have to want to change. And that desire has to extend to some deeper place than a simple, "I want." It has to resonate someplace in the human psyche that we find difficult to articulate. Think of how many very earnest, very committed people experience "success" on Weight Watchers or some other plan. They buckle down, they make the lifestyle changes, they get accolades from their family and friends, and they're right back where they started a year or six months later.

The people who were worried about "barriers" were probably on to something - but they were thinking about the wrong barriers. These are barriers that exist within every population, and they aren't about transportation or literacy. They're about being human.

Andrea said...

Actually, I think the resistance folks are right. I think resistance is a way of asserting some power and dignity when there is almost none left. "I know I need to change, but damn if I will let you control that." I think channeling that power and anger is the answer.

If barriers were the answer -barriers of our unintentional creation, anyway- then, when people did change (and some do) they would change to look like us. And almost no one does that.