Jason – Part 2

This month's featured ShadowBox scenario is a continuation from last month's scenario. It is part of a collection of 23 child welfare scenarios created with the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Welcome to our featured scenario of the month! We use this format to share a unique scenario that highlights an interesting problem, an emerging topic, or a new scenario format. As you read through the scenario, think carefully about how you would handle the situation – what stands out to you, what do you think is going on, and what would your priorities be if you found yourself in this situation? We suggest recording your choices and decision rationale so that you can compare your decisions with the experts at the end of the scenario.

This month’s featured ShadowBox scenario is from a collection of child welfare scenarios created in partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Read on to experience the conclusion of the scenario.

Part 2 – The Scenario Continues…

Before proceeding, we recommend reviewing part one from last month’s Scenario of the Month: Jason – Part 1.

As a refresher, you are a social worker investigating a complaint from Jason’s mother, Susan, who is concerned that her 17-year-old son is being physically abused and neglected by his grandmother, Mary. Mary has full legal custody of Jason.

You make an unannounced visit to Mary’s home, a well-maintained two-story private home to speak with Jason. Mary answers the door and says she knows that you’re there because her daughter is mad and called the child abuse hotline. She tells you that Jason hasn’t come home from school yet. You ask Mary some background questions and confirm that she is a retired corrections officer and now works as a security guard at the County Hospital. Mary tells you she was granted legal guardianship of Jason when Susan was 17 years old and Jason was under a year old. Jason’s father is deceased but Mary does not remember the cause of death. Since infancy, Jason has alternated between living with his mother and with Mary. 

Mary tells you that Susan married her current husband, Stanley, six years ago and then moved out of state. Around the same time Susan was moving, Jason asked to live with his grandmother full-time and has resided with her ever since. Mary tells you that Susan filed a petition two years ago requesting modification of the guardianship agreement, but the case was dismissed because Susan failed to appear in court. About a year ago, Susan requested another modification of guardianship; the judge requested that Children’s Services submit a Court Ordered Investigation of Susan’s home, but it was never completed.

You ask Mary about her relationship with Jason. Mary tells you that she and Jason get into conflicts because he does not listen. She also tells you that he does not clean his room or bathroom and does not do his homework when he is supposed to. Mary offers to show you Jason’s room, which is covered with clothes, papers and fast food trash.

Mary continues that she is very strict with Jason because she wants the best for him. She does not feel that he did well when he lived with Susan. He repeated the 3rd grade because he missed 23 days of school while he was living with Susan. Mary states she lives for her grandchildren. Jason has his own phone and is allowed to speak with his mother at anytime. Mary says Jason’s problem is that he is lazy and does not like to do what he is told. 

You ask Mary a series of questions to learn how she disciplines Jason (Does Jason ever behave in ways that you find unacceptable? What happens when he does something that is not acceptable to you?), and also about the previous reports of Jason skipping school and drinking. Mary acknowledges that sometimes she gets really angry and doesn’t know what to do with Jason. When Jason was younger, he was more obedient but since he became a teenager, he is increasingly defiant and sometimes Mary feels threatened. She is concerned that he may be skipping school and drinking, but he is at an age where you can’t spank him and send him to his room anymore. She knows it is important to keep him in line and teach him to respect her authority and she finds his defiant attitude unacceptable. Mary avoids describing any specific discipline techniques, so you ask Mary directly about the report that she threatened Jason with her gun. She denies threatening Jason with the gun.

When you ask Mary about what happens when she is away for long weekends, she seems surprised by this line of questioning. She tells you that she is occasionally away for a long weekend, but Jason is nearly an adult and should be able to manage without her for a few days. She leaves strict rules when she is gone that he is not allowed to have anyone else in the house, or go anywhere except to school. He is definitely too old for a babysitter.

Mary brings up of Jason’s mother, Susan, again. She tells you that Jason is better off living with her (Mary) because Susan’s husband, Stanley, can be very aggressive. Mary tells you that Stanley was involved with the law thirteen years earlier when he was arrested for attempted robbery and resisting arrest. He was imprisoned for three years and released ten years ago. She goes on to tell you that Stanley punched Jason in the stomach the last time Jason visited Susan and that she does not like the way Stanley treats the children. She also says that all of the children wanted to stay with her, but Susan would not allow it. Mary says she told Stanley not to put his hands on her grandchildren. She asks her grandchildren if anyone has bothered them, but the children seem afraid to talk about Stanley. Mary feels that her daughter does not protect the children. Mary tells you she contacted Child Protective Services in Susan’s state, but they did nothing.

You ask about Mary and Jason’s previous referral to Preventive Services. Mary says that she and Jason were referred to a program that focused on improving relationships and communication between parents and teens. She says she thought the program was a waste of time, and that the counselors “don’t know what they’re talking about.” In addition, she says she works long hours and doesn’t have free time for things like that.

Decision Point #3

Given your conversations with Susan and Mary, what is your focus for a conversation with Jason?

Rank the following options (1 = most important, 6 = least important).

A) Mary’s use of physical punishment
B) The allegation that Susan and Stanley’s home is not safe
C) Jason’s current school attendance and performance
D) Mary’s use of a gun to control Jason
E) Jason and Mary’s failure to engage in the preventive program referral and intervention
F) Jason’s possible alcohol/drug use

Take a moment to consider your reasons for your decision.

The Scenario Continues…

Jason arrives home, and appears sullen and wary at first glance. Mary asks where he’s been and why he is late coming home.  With his head down, eyes fixed on the floor, Jason walks past you and Mary into the kitchen without responding. You introduce yourself to Jason and ask him how he’s doing. He says, “I’m fine. Been hanging out with some buddies.” You tell Jason that you’d like to talk with him separately. Mary is reluctant but finally agrees and goes upstairs while you speak with Jason.

You explain to Jason that you are here because you are concerned about how he gets along with his grandmother. He crosses his arms and shakes his head, looking defensive. You ask him about what happens when he has disagreements with his grandmother. He responds, “Man, she has some crazy high expectations. She’s always on me about cleaning my room and the bathroom and all other kinds of chores I don’t give a sh*t about.” You ask Jason if he is scared of his grandmother. He smiles slyly and says, “Do I look like I would be afraid of an old lady? She doesn’t scare me, but she’s straight up psycho.”

He goes on to say that his grandmother yells and curses at him, and that she hits him when he does not do what he’s told. You ask Jason about the last time she hit him, and he says it happened about a week ago. Additionally, Jason says she recently threw a boot at him, and it hit him in the arm. You ask Jason to describe his response when his grandmother hits him and to describe what happened with the most recent incident. Jason stated he becomes angry but tries to just get away from her when she becomes that mad. When she hit him last week, Jason said he just left the house and hung out with friends.  

You ask if Mary has ever threatened him with a gun, and he says, “Not really. She waved her gun around once, but I know she wasn’t serious.”

You ask what happens when Mary goes away, including how often this happens. He says, “Man, I wish she would go away more often — that way she’d stop buggin’ me about my chores and sh*t! I can’t wait until I’m on my own, I can take care of myself just fine.”

You ask Jason about school and how he spends his free time. He says he likes to hang out with friends. You ask him how he’s doing in school and he says, “Okay, I guess.” He denies any alcohol or drug use. You ask about the preventive program he was referred to a few months ago. He replies that Mary was working overtime for a few weeks so they didn’t have time to go.

Decision Point #4

What is your primary theory of what is happening with Jason and Mary?

From the list below, indicate options that are highly likely, somewhat likely, and unlikely to be the core of the issue.

Highly LikelySomewhat LikelyUnlikelyOptions
A) There isn’t really an issue here: Susan is stirring the pot because she wants custody of Jason.
B) Jason’s poor school performance and possible alcohol use are indicators that Jason has much deeper problems.
C) Mary means well and loves her grandson; she does not know how to effectively parent a teen.
D) Mary may not be a fit parent.
E) This is a classic parent-teen conflict. Allegations are not serious due to Jason’s age.
F) Mary’s threatening behavior is escalating and will likely continue, and worsen, if not addressed.

Take a moment to consider your reasons for your decision.

Decision Point #5

What are the more and less effective next steps?

From the options below, which steps do you believe would have the greatest impact on the family?

More EffectiveLess EffectiveOptions
A) Refer Mary and Jason to a teen/parent preventive program.
B) Get an alcohol/drug assessment for Jason.
C) Follow up with Mary about a gun in the house and her use of it when she has a conflict with Jason.
D) Get agreement between Mary and Jason about how they will handle conflicts.
E) Follow up with Susan to assess how much of her concern is related to the custody conflict.
F) Get Jason involved in activities at a community center.
G) Refer Mary and Jason to a mentorship program. Recommend a male mentor.
H) Explore alternate housing/custody arrangements for Jason.

Take a moment to consider your reasons for your decision.