Posted by Kat Nielsen, MSW
As I waited for my windows to defrost and began my drive home I started to mull over the events of the night. I’d arrived at the home of my client; a 10-year-old boy who I’m sure will be diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder or something similar in the near future. He will also probably be institutionalized relatively soon. Sent either to a therapeutic group home or incarcerated due to his behaviors and his parents’ unwillingness to work on them, but until that time it is my job to ensure he doesn’t injure his sister, his parents, or himself. Oh and if I can teach him some skills to be able to interact in the community while I’m at it, that would be great.
The child’s room contains nothing with sharp edges at first glance you might even feel sorry for him. A mattress on the carpeted floor. He can’t be trusted with a bed frame or a box spring. Even the mattress is a risk as a spring pulled from it could easily become a weapon. The bedroom window posed too many risks to count and had to be boarded over after it has been broken and replaced too many times.. He only has one stuffed animal in the room and it had to be chosen carefully. Anything can and has become a weapon in the hands of this child. Nothing is fool proof but it is unlikely he’ll be able to do much harm to himself or the room if he’s alone in there, which in and of itself is a rarity.
The child isn’t without toys, however, downstairs where he can be monitored more closely he has many toys and games. Downstairs where he can easily (comparatively speaking) be separated from them when his behaviors start to escalate. Also downstairs is the quiet room. A room which has been transformed much like the bedroom to be a safe space. A space devoid of possible weapons. A space where he can throw a tantrum, be by himself, or safely be restrained when necessary.
During the week there are usually 2 or 3 of us working a 4 hour daily shift with this boy and we’ve each been trained in verbal de-escalation and various physical restraint techniques. We should have been prepared; we should’ve been able to handle whatever he’d thrown our way—and over the past few months he’d thrown a lot. But for some reason we’d been off our game tonight and my poor wrist had paid the price.
It happened quickly even now as I replay it in my mind it’s slightly blurry. He started getting agitated with what his mom was saying I was the closest of the support staff to him. I began verbal de-escalation techniques and at the same time began directing him toward the quiet room. For some reason his mother kept speaking and the subject kept escalating the boy, I should have asked her to stop. I should have asked her to leave the room. He was escalating quicker and I exchanged the look with my shift partner. Once you’ve worked awhile with people you know each other’s looks this one said “get ready for a restraint” or at least I thought it did.
As the child began to lash out physically I went to block him from assaulting his mother and begin a restraint. Either I was moving quicker than my shift partner or he hadn’t caught the meaning of my look. I’m not sure which all I know is that with only one support staff attempting the restraint the child was able to get his teeth on my wrist and he bit hard. I turned toward my shift partner he got the kid off me in the moment it all seemed kind of far away and I heard shift partner’s voice mention the child’s eyes seemed to be rolling back into his head as he latched on to my wrist.
Thank goodness three of us had been assigned to the shift tonight. The other two continued the restraint while I washed my bite. Somehow I finished off the shift.
“$8.00 an hour is SO not worth this” I think as I inventory my wrist for what must be the thousandth time since the incident. Yep that’s going to be one hell of a bruise, and I don’t bruise easily.
It took me six months after graduation to land this job. Seems all a bachelor’s degree in social work has qualified me for is to become a glorified babysitter. Oh, they don’t call it that of course and get quite offended when we do. They’d prefer we use the title they have bestowed upon us, Behavior Intervention Specialist, because after all fancy titles equal employee appreciation.
I’m glad to see my parents are out for the evening as I pull into the driveway. I don’t have the energy to tell them about my night. They’ll tell me I need to find a new job, a safer job. I know its true but it just isn’t that easy.
Despite the bruise forming on my wrist in the shape of a 10 year old boy’s mouth I crawled into bed with a small smile on my lips. Tomorrow is Sunday, my day of hope. Sunday’s paper has all the best job ads. Surely I would find a better job because seriously, getting bitten equals time to move on.